Bloggers’ Protection Being Put to the Test

A new legal proceeding could lay the groundwork for bloggers’ rights — or lack thereof — when it comes to freedom of speech.

The Memphis Police Department has filed a subpoena asking AOL to provide them the identity of the person or people behind the MPD Enforcer 2.0 blog, which is apparently hosted on AOL’s servers. The blog takes a critical look at the police department, in particular its leaders.

“It has been a common practice for the administration to cover up political incidents in an attempt to climb the ladder of power within the department,” the latest post, written Wednesday, reads.

The blog has evidently become quite popular with police and the general public alike. Though the police department has not given a specific reason for why it wants the bloggers’ identities — currently known only as the alias “Dirk Diggler” — its request has gotten both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center fired up.

“We are quite interested in preserving the anonymity of the bloggers,” ACLU Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “Anonymous speech has long been protected speech under the First Amendment.”

The bloggers say they’ve hired the Public Citizen Litigation Group to represent them in the case. AOL, however, has lost a similar battle to protect users’ identities before: In 2001, a Japanese electronics company demanded the name of a user it said had posted “false, defamatory and otherwise unlawful messages” on a message board. Despite AOL’s efforts to keep the information private, a Virginia Supreme Court ruled in the other company’s favor.