Bloggers who hide their real identities may want to pay particular attention to a recent case. A Texas judge has ordered the discovery of an anonymous blogger who posted alleged defamatory comments about a hospital located in Paris, Texas. The ruling is likely to be appealed.
Anonymous users also posted comments on the blog which the hospital claims is confidential patient information. The hospital claims that some of the commenters and perhaps the blog operator are current or former employees and the disclosure of such information violates HIPAA.
The Citizen Media Law Project does a nice job of framing the legal issue:
The primary question in cases seeking to uncover the identity of an anonymous defendant is how to balance the defendant’s First Amendment protected interest in engaging in anonymous speech against the plaintiff’s interest in pursuing a valid cause of action for the effects of nonprotected speech.
The post goes on to discuss the various standards used in determining whether an anonymous blogger’s identify should be revealed. Right now, this issue is not settled among the courts and different standards have been applied in various cases. But one thing is clear. If you are a modern day Lone Ranger or Zorro, you should not have the expectation that your anonymity gives you the right to say anything you wish about other people and organizations.
Even in Delaware, which has applied the most stringent standard, a plaintiff is not required to fully prove its case before an identity is revealed. And in the Texas case it doesn’t appear any evidence was required before the plaintiff could learn the identity of the mysterious blogger.
If you are concerned about material you are publishing it is probably best to seek the pre-publication advice of a media lawyer.