Doe v.

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140 F. Supp. 2d 1088 (W.D. Wash. 2001)

In Doe v., Inc., a federal court in Seattle considered a case in which a large corporation attempted to use a subpoena to obtain the identities of 23 pseudonymous speakers on an Internet message board operated by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly quashed a subpoena seeking to force an Internet service provider to disclose the identity of persons who spoke anonymously on an Internet message board.

In a precedent-setting ruling, the court upheld the right to speak anonymously on the Internet, acknowledging “the constitutional rights of Internet users, including the First Amendment right to speak anonymously, must be carefully safeguarded.” Id. at 1097. The court said, “The free exchange of ideas on the Internet is driven in large part by the ability of Internet users to communicate anonymously.” Id. at 1093. Without such ability, people may no longer participate in public message boards. “If Internet users could be stripped of that anonymity by a civil subpoena enforced under the liberal rules of civil discovery, this would have a significant chilling effect on Internet communications and thus on basic First Amendment rights.” Id.

The decision was the first in the country to address the standard for compliance with a subpoena where the "J. Doe" (who used the pseudonym NoGuano) was not a party to the case, and no allegations of liability against Doe had been made. The court held that the identities would not be turned over unless "(1) the subpoena was issued in good faith and not for any improper purpose, (2) the information sought relates to a core claim or defense, (3) the identifying information is directly and materially relevant to that core or defense, and (4) information sufficient to establish or disprove that claim or defense is unavailable from any other source." Id. at 1095. Since the petitioner had “failed to demonstrate that the identity of these Internet users is directly and materially relevant to a core defense [in the underlying securities litigation],” the court granted the speakers’ motion to quash the subpoena. Id. at 1096.

Download the District Court opinion.

Chapter 2 - Content And Speech Regulation
Obscenity · Communications Decency Act - Obscene Materials · Children's Online Protection Act (COPA) · Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) · State Attempts At Regulation · First Amendment · Anonymity · International Content Regulation