A business consultant who wants to know who’s been anonymously disparaging and fixating on her online has gotten a court to force Google to tell her. As she joined a growing number of people who have persuaded courts to unmask troublesome cyber ciphers, Carla Franklin said Wednesday she hoped her case would help others combat similar problems. “The Internet cannot become a safe haven for harassers and stalkers,” she said in an e-mail.
I hope she wins. And here’s why she should-
While anonymous commentary became an instant tradition and valued aspect of the Internet, it’s also become a scourge for people and businesses who have found themselves bullied and besmirched by shadowy critics. And it’s become an issue for courts trying to weigh self-expression rights against defamation and other legal claims. “There’s a tension there — there’s a First Amendment right to be able to speak anonymously, but there’s no First Amendment right to violate the law,” said Bennet G. Kelley, a Santa Monica, Calif., attorney who specializes in Internet law. “People think: ‘It’s the Internet. I can do whatever I want,'” he said, but “the law applies, online and offline.”
And here’s where Raphy can serve as an object lesson for the cowardly anonymous deceivers and trash talkers
Still, enforcing it [the law] can be a challenge. While a number of states have laws against cyberharassment or cyberstalking, it can be difficult for authorities to go after suspects who can easily change aliases and may be in another jurisdiction. Prosecutions do happen, including the recent trial of a New York man accused of using phony online identities to harass and discredit his scholar father’s adversaries in a heated academic debate over the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The son, Raphael Golb, was convicted last month of identity theft and other charges. He said his pseudonymous e-mails and blog posts amounted to academic whistle-blowing and satire, not crime; he plans to appeal.
The days of the cowering behind the cover of anonymity character assassins is over. Enter the light before the door is forced open.