PITTSBURGH - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania will be filing a motion in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas tomorrow in support of the right of an Internet discussion board based in Elizabeth Borough not to reveal the identities of people making anonymous statements on its site.
Richard Rattanni has operated the elizabethboro.com discussion board for more than 10 years to provide a forum for members of the local community to discuss politics and disseminate information. The discussion board is a free service that allows users to post comments and read comments posted by others.
Thomas DeRosa, the elected chairman of the Forward Township Board of Supervisors, filed a lawsuit in November 2009 claiming that two anonymous defendants - referred to as Howard Doe and Robin Doe in the complaint - posted defamatory statements about him on the discussion board. DeRosa issued a subpoena to Rattanni compelling him to divulge the identities of people who posted ten different comments about DeRosa on the discussion board under the thread "Fwd. Twp. DeRosa = Corruption." But many if not all of the comments that DeRosa pointed to in his complaint do not meet the standard for defamation because they are statements of hyperbole or opinion.
The motion asks the judge to enter a protective order barring DeRosa from obtaining any information from Rattanni relating to the identities of the anonymous speakers who posted statements on the discussion board.
"Protecting the freedom to speak anonymously on the Internet is essential to the preservation of a robust marketplace of ideas," said Sara Rose, an ACLU of Pennsylvania staff attorney. "Allowing a public official to abuse the court process to unmask his critics creates a serious chill on people's willingness to speak out about important matters and, in this case, will have the overall effect of limiting public comment and readership of the elizabethboro.com discussion board."
The case is DeRosa v. Doe, GD-09-21507 (Allegheny Ct. Com. Pl.). The motion will be presented at 2 p.m. on Friday, January 8, 2010, in courtroom 815 of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
More information about the case, including a copy of the motion, is available here.