The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Phone: (202) 588-1000

City of Memphis Drops Subpoena Against Anonymous Blogger; Decision Is a Victory for Freedom of Speech

Statement of Paul Alan Levy, attorney, Public Citizen*


The City of Memphis and Police Director Larry Godwin have finally
realized that their attempt to unmask an anonymous blogger was not only
misguided, it was unconstitutional. By withdrawing their subpoena to
America Online demanding the identification of the blogger behind MPD Enforcer 2.0, Godwin and the city have effectively conceded that the First Amendment protects the right of anonymous speech.

The city had originally filed a secret petition for leave to take
discovery in the Chancery Court for Shelby County, Tennessee,
deliberately not giving any notice to the anonymous blogger in order to
ensure that no contrary arguments would be presented. However,
because AOL is located in Virginia, the plaintiffs had to obtain a
Virginia court subpoena and AOL, following Virginia law, provided
notice to the blogger who promptly opposed the subpoena. The contents
of the secret petition were revealed when Memphis reporters discovered
that plaintiffs had neglected to file their request for the Virginia
subpoena under seal.

Courts across the country have held that plaintiffs cannot identify
their Internet critics simply by issuing subpoenas - they have to show
that their suit has merit. The plaintiffs here, confronted with this
rule, recognized that they could not show any right to sue the blogger
for publishing photographs of the police chief and of a former
undercover police officer, as well as of parodies of the department's
'Blue Crush' slogan. The city's acknowledgment that it could not
enforce its subpoena represents a victory both for the right of
anonymous speech and for good sense.

READ the city's notice, which does not provide any explanation for the withdrawal.

*Paul Alan Levy is the Public Citizen attorney who represents the anonymous blogger.Memphisco-counsel for the blogger are Lucian T. Pera and Brian S. Faughnan of Adams and Reese LLP.

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

(202) 588-1000