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ACLU stands behind John Does online

The American Civil Liberties Union renews its pledge to protect anonymous online speakers from legal action taken by those they criticize.

    The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday renewed its pledge to protect anonymous online speakers from legal action taken by those they criticize.

    Through an appeal filed Monday, the ACLU is making efforts to ensure that freedom of speech and privacy are as protected on the Web as they are in the offline world.

    "We think the right to speak anonymously has long been recognized in print in terms of the ability of people to have leaflets anonymously," said Doug Honig, public education director for the Washington state bureau of the ACLU. "Many on the Internet use pseudonyms, and we think there should be strong protections for that."

    The national ACLU submitted an appeal in a case involving Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin, who found critical remarks about herself on a Web site called Grant Street 1999. The Web site author allegedly accused the judge of lobbying on behalf of an attorney who was seeking a position as a judge, according to the ACLU. Melvin filed a defamation suit and is seeking disclosure of the author's name.

    The ACLU of Washington state and the Electronic Frontier Foundation on Monday also asked a federal court to block a subpoena that would force Internet service 2TheMart.com to disclose the identity of a person who is accused of writing anonymous statements on InfoSpace's Silicon Investor Web site. The ACLU said the individual, who uses the pseudonym "NoGuano," did not post comments to the online message board.

    The EFF has become increasingly involved in cases implicating anonymous online posters, often called John Does. Earlier this month, the organization argued along with free-speech group the Liberty Project that a court should not release the names of an ambulance company's online critics, citing free-speech protections.

    The ACLU says many individuals involved in defamation cases believe their freedom of speech is "chilled" by the threat of a lawsuit, especially by corporations.

    The appeals come shortly after a judge awarded $10,000 in damages to a high school teenager represented by the ACLU. The student had been suspended for creating a Web page mocking the assistant principal at his high school.