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Liskula Cohen, and why web anonymity matters

Internet & BroadbandOver the last few weeks I've spent probably too much time thinking and writing about the Liskula Cohen libel case. It concerns one of my favourite topics: Internet Anonymity vs Privacy vs Personal Responsibility. And how often does an IT blogger get to write about catty supermodels?

Despite what some tenacious commenters may have thought, my earlier blog was not defending the right of the now-not-so-anonymous blogger (better known as 29-year-old Rosemary Port) to anonymously defame. Otherwise, the internet would be one big slanderfest (or, at least, more of a slanderfest than it already is). There needs to be some disincentive for completely juvenile behavior.

But today brings news of a case where anonymity on the net absolutely needs to be protected. It too involves a court subpoena ordering Google to turn over private information; in this case, the names of the owners of [email protected], the email address for The TCI Journal, a muck-racking news site based in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Apparently, people in T&C don't spend all their time drinking mojitos out of hollowed-out pineapples with little umbrellas stuck in them. They also spend time exposing people who allegedly bribe government officials.

Lawyers for one of the alleged bribers, developer Dr. Cem Kinay, are now suing The TCI Journal in California in what some are calling a case of "libel tourism". (Not to be confused with a defamation vacation.) In other words, the developer in T&C chose to sue in a California court because US courts make it easier to demand a company's records.

Here, nobody is calling anyone a skank. The TCI Journal mostly appears to have been reporting on an inquiry into government corruption and reprinting letters from readers about the topic. Lawyers for the developer wanted the site to redact any mentions of the developer in its reports, which to its credit The TCI Journal declined to do.

According to Wikileaks, TCI's anonymous journalism "culminated in a dramatic UK governance takeover of the Islands on August 14. A trail of evidence dug up by the TCI Journal, a UK commission of inquiry, and others, showed that foreign property developers were giving millions in secret loans and payments to senior Islander politicians, including an alleged $500,000 cash payment to the Island's now former Premier, Michael Misick."

A litigious bunch, these developers also sued the commission and the T&C government to force it to redact the final commission report, blacking out their names. Not to worry, though: Wikileaks got a copy of the unredacted 266-page document and posted it online. The official redacted report is published at tci-inquiry.org. (If you've got time, scroll through the unredacted one - it's a juicy read.)

Next page: Protecting the little guys, and serving the public >>

See also:

Blogger sues Google for revealing identity

Model takes legal action over Google blog slur

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