Should the Government Be Able to Kill Online Anonymity?

Even if you didn’t commit a crime, and so no warrant has been issued (per your Fourth Amendment rights), the government can still take away your online anonymity, says a court. Even if all you did was use your First Amendment-protected right to speak about a private company online, the government can unmask you.

This is what occurred in a ruling against Glassdoor, an online job-review website. Judge Diane J. Humetewa of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) can compel a private company—say, Facebook, Yelp, Twitter…—to give up your private information just because you expressed an opinion online.

Glassdoor, which is a California-based company, has appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“[W]e launched an appeal of a U.S. District Court decision in Arizona to force us to unmask the identities of several Glassdoor members who anonymously shared their experiences and opinions about their workplaces and company leadership,” Brad Serwin, general counsel at Glassdoor, said in a blog post. “We believe the lower court applied the wrong standard in placing the interests of government ahead of Americans’ protected free speech rights under the First Amendment. We hope to persuade the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to require a higher standard for these requests.”

If it stands, this case could crack the foundation of online freedom. How could a labor union organize if its members’ views, through no fault of their own, might be made public by the government? How could any whistleblower act with this threat being a real possibility?

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