EFF Challenges Subpoenas to ISPs for Identities of Anonymous Posters

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On July 14, 2010, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a group that defends the privacy and online rights of computer and Internet users, served a motion to quash two dragnet subpoenas issued by the plaintiffs in a high-profile New York state court case to Internet service providers (ISP’s) Google and Yahoo. The subpoenas demanded the identities of a wide range of anonymous online critics who posted comments on various blogs and websites.

The subpoenas stem from a state lawsuit instituted by New York couple Michael and Miriam Hersh, alleging a “sweeping conspiracy led by family members and their acquaintances to accuse the Plaintiffs of mistreating their children and to cause a public controversy.” The couple made headlines in 2008 when news reports were published saying that they had their then 16-year-old son, Isaac, forcibly taken to a privately owned Jamaican boot camp known for its abuse and harsh conditions. The story created a public outcry of support for Isaac, who was ultimately released from the Jamaican institution with the help of members of the Jewish community.

The couple’s complaint alleges various causes of action, including tortious interference with contract and intentional inflection of emotional distress. Specifically targeted in their subpoenas to Google and Yahoo are the identities of users of 10 e-mail accounts, the operators of 30 blogs and a website, and potentially hundred of users who posted comments on those sites. In addition to identity-related information, the plaintiffs seek the content of stored communications with an ISP or electronic communications facility.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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