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Potential legal challenges facing anonymity

People believe that if you blog anonymously, you can get away with almost anything. This is not true as you can be held liable for what you post. There are ways your identity can be discovered. There are legal ways you can have your identity discovered. In civil cases, there are tools a court can use to get your identity. The main tools used are subpoenas. These are court orders commanding an individual or company to give information or give testimony concerning a matter that has been presented in court.

Being anonymous encourages some people to post malicious things concerning a person or organization which puts them into trouble. However, there are also people who will file lawsuits so they can reveal the identities of anonymous bloggers, for personal and not valid legal reasons. This means that when it comes to the law, you can never be certain of your anonymity. Here are some things you need to know on protecting your identity legally.

How to protect your identity from being exposed through lawsuits

In the first place, you need to avoid posting things that will get you into trouble. If you are posting something sensitive or controversial concerning a person or an organization, you can try protecting yourself through the use of anonymous tools. You need to ensure that even if someone subpoenas your Internet Service Provider (ISP), web host, or email provider, they will not get any information that will lead them to you.

How to find out there is a subpoena order

You cannot have any certainty that anytime there is a subpoena issued against you, someone will notify you on time. The only assurance you have is that service providers are taking it upon themselves to inform you when a subpoena is issued. You can find out more by going through your policy and check the terms and conditions. To protect your identity, you might want to review the terms of service for your site host or ISP before signing up with them. Only use service providers who will inform you of the subpoena in advance.

Courts also help protect your identity by making it a requirement for the plaintiffs to notify you of the procedure to obtain the identity. However, this requirement is not applicable everywhere.  The plaintiff can reach the anonymous blogger through their service providers and ask them to give the notice.

What happens when a subpoena is issued?

This depends on whether you knew about the subpoena or not. Once you find out a subpoena was issues, you are better off getting yourself a lawyer. If you got information on the subpoena, you can contest it in court. You can have your lawyer seek orders to “dismiss the subpoena order”.

If you did not know about the subpoena, you might be a disadvantage. Your service providers might give up your identity without a fight eliminating the option of fighting the order in court. Fortunately for you, there are higher chances of you finding out about the subpoena.

What to do when there is a subpoena for your identity

Being notified of a subpoena does not mean your luck has run out. You still have a few ‘tricks’ up your sleeve. First you need to get a lawyer to help you with the legal stuff. You can institute a ‘‘motion to dismiss’’ the subpoena. You have a limited to a limited time period to make your application, so you need to do it within that time. The amount of time to institute legal proceedings is usually about seven business days, so you see the urgency of doing it immediately.

If you cannot find a lawyer, you look for help from public groups and other organizations that fight for the rights of online users.

Do you have to challenge a subpoena?

It is not always in your best interest to challenge subpoenas. The process can be costly and you do not have a guarantee that you will win even with a lawyer. Because of the risks and costs involved, it is better for you to minimize the information you provide for you to remain anonymous. You know what they say, ‘‘better safe than sorry.’’You are better off not causing trouble through your blog if you value your privacy.

Photograph by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke