Miami Cyber Crime Lawyer on Model’s Defamation Case Against Anonymous Blogger

August 21, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

The celebrity media reported potentially major cybercrime news yesterday when the identity of a blogger who smeared a former supermodel was revealed. As Inside Edition reported Aug. 20, Liskula Cohen sued Google to find out the name of an anonymous blogger who called her a “psychotic, lying, whoring... skank” using the Blogger service that Google owns. Earlier in the week, Cohen won the lawsuit and learned that the blogger is Rosemary Port, a public relations worker and socialite who Cohen said was a passing acquaintance. Cohen said she wasn’t sure why Port would say those things about her, but dropped her defamation lawsuit after confronting her.

Online privacy experts across the Web are saying this may spell the end of online anonymity. In previous online defamation cases, many Internet users have escaped liability and culpability because it’s difficult to connect a online posting with a person. Complicating matters, the federal Communications Decency Act shields online service providers such as Google and Yahoo! from liability for the material their users post, and judges do not always rule that providers must turn over information such as IP addresses that can identify the writer. Without that information, victims of defamation often don’t have any recourse but to sue an anonymous “John Doe.”

I believe that may change. In this court ruling, New York state trial court judge Joan Madden rejected Port’s argument that information in blogs should not be treated as factual assertions. If this argument is accepted by other courts, that means bloggers may be liable not only in defamation lawsuits, but also in criminal prosecutions for cyberstalking, cyberbullying or even criminal defamation (which is against the law in 17 states, including Florida). That has huge implications, not only for South Florida cybercrime criminal defense attorneys like me, but also for every Internet user. Without reliable legal barriers to maintain privacy, legal actions against Internet users could skyrocket.

As a Fort Lauderdale cybercrime criminal defense attorney, I have mixed feelings about this. Illegal behavior online is still illegal, and I support laws that apply the same standards to the same behavior in both forums. But when governments get the power to regulate or even criminalize speech, history shows that some will misuse that power to squelch unpopular ideas. If online service providers can routinely be compelled to turn over identifying information on users, criminal prosecution of free speech could become frighteningly common -- whether it’s speech about politics, touchy issues like sex or, as in this case, simply unkind to someone with the means to stop the speaker.