Doe has made a name for Bruce Fischman (pictured). The Miami-based
attorney's experience at tracking down pseudonymous Internet posters
who blast companies and their executives on message boards has earned
him a reputation as one of the nation's top cybersleuthsand
a bane for free-speech advocates.
firm has handled around 100 so-called cybersmear cases in the last
two years and receives about two new ones each week. In October
he scored a victory over the American Civil Liberties Union in one
of the most closely watched Internet anonymity cases yet. A Florida
federal appeals court upheld a state court's decision that ordered
America Online and Yahoo to reveal the identities of eight John
Does who criticized Fischman's client, a former CEO of Hvide Marine,
on financial message boards. The judge in the case did not issue
an opinion on the ruling, however, and therefore passed on the opportunity
to set a precedent. Nonetheless, Fischman thinks it's good news
for corporations. "It's a rubber stamp from an appellate court that
says courts are not going to let anonymous posters run hog wild,
do what they want, and have no responsibility for their actions,"
advocacy groups such as Public Citizen, the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, and the ACLU are fighting back. In November, a month
following the Hvide case, free-speech advocates countered with a
victory of their own when a New Jersey Superior Court judge refused
to unmask four posters accused of libeling a software company and
leaking its secrets.
early trend was, you file [to learn the identity of an anonymous
poster], you get, and more recently it's been, you file, and
you may face opposition," says Paul Levy of Public Citizen.
to Fischman and other lawyers, national law in this area will have
to come through either legislation or a ruling from the Supreme
Court. With no apparent urge from Washington to step in, and few
cases in federal court, that isn't likely to happen soon.