Anonymous no more

A Halifax newspaper has been ordered to hand over information that could identity seven anonymous online commenters.

The Nova Scotia Supreme court has approved a request by Halifax
firefighters to unmask the anonymous commenters, who say they made
libelous allegations of racism and incompetence on a story run by weekly newspaper The Coast. The story was about black firefighters filing a human rights complaint against the Halifax fire department.

Read more about it here.

This news comes in tandem with an on-going discussion over the rights of
anonymous commenters. It’s also a wake-up call for anyone who thinks they can hide behind anonymous comments.

The Chronicle-Herald reports:

“‘I find the order is appropriate in the circumstances,’ Justice
Heather Robertson said Wednesday in granting the application made by the
lawyer for Chief Bill Mosher and the deputy chief, Stephen Thurber.”

‘The court doesn’t condone the conduct of anonymous Internet users.’

“The alleged defamatory comments were posted by six people anonymously
on The Coast’s website under a story about fire department racism.
Another person using a Gmail account circulated an online letter also
alleged to be defamatory.”

Neither The Coast nor Google have opposed the application.

Coast editor and co-founder Kyle Shaw told The Chronicle-Herald that he
didn’t oppose the application because he didn’t know whether it was up
to the Coast to protect their identities.

“We thought we’d leave it to the judge. Are these people who deserve
some kind of protection? As ex-members of the Coast community, I don’t
know their legal standing or my ethical obligation to them. That’s why I
wanted to leave it up to the judge. These are not journalistic sources.
. . . If they were, I have an obligation and I have legal protection
for these people.”

The CBC reports:

“The Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice acknowledged that the IP addresses
won’t identify the commenters directly, so Mosher and Thurber will
likely need another court order against service providers Aliant or
EastLink to determine who logged on to the computers.

That information will not become public unless it’s introduced as
evidence in a defamation trial.”

Shaw also told The Chronicle-Herald:

“The Internet is a world where everything is tracked and people think
there is anonymity, but there is none on the Internet. That is a fact of
the Internet, and if anyone thinks it’s utterly free and anonymous and
untraceable, they are mistaken.”