In more chilling news, it has been reported that Google reached a settlement with a group of Israeli council members and will voluntarily turn over the IP address of a blogger accused of slander to a court overseeing the case. From the report:
For more than a year, the anonymous blogger slandered three Shaarei Tikva councilmen: local council chairman Gideon Idan, Shaarei Tikva director general Haim Blumenfeld and council member Avi Yokobovich. The blogger accused the men of criminal acts, such as pretending to be handicapped in order to receive discounts on local property taxes, receiving bribes from a contractor, and having ties to criminal gangs.
The three councilmen filed a NIS 300,000 lawsuit against the blogger, who was named “anonymous” in the statement of claim. They also asked for a court order ordering Google to disclose the blogger’s IP address, which would enable the court to contact the blogger’s Internet services provider and order it to disclose the blogger’s identity.
Google initially said that disclosing the blogger’s identity violated rulings on the balance between freedom of expression and a person’s right to his reputation.
However, in a pre-ruling, Judge Oren Schwartz said that the blog’s content raised suspicions of criminal conduct, and Google took the hint. Judge Schwartz applied the strict position of Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon that the details of a surfer may be disclosed only if the slander was tantamount to criminal defamation.
Following Judge Schwartz’s ruling, Google and the councilmen reached a settlement in their dispute.
The chilling part of this story is that Google was not forced to turn over the IP address. There was a pre-ruling that made it sound like the court would order them to provide the address, but that wasn’t certain, and Google could have decided to push the fight further. Instead, without a subpoena or any other legal requirement, they voluntarily agreed to provide the IP address to the court, allowing the blogger’s identity to be revealed.
Google’s settlement and subsequent handing over of a blogger’s IP address without being legally forced to has the potential to set a dangerous precedent for the thousands of bloggers reporting on controversial topics who previously felt protected that their ISP or blogging provider (such as Google) would fight to preserve their anonymity.
UPDATE: Declan McCullagh has received a response from Google spokesman Steve Langdon on this issue, who states that Google as indeed forced to turn over the IP address: “we handed over the IP address of the Blogger after an Israeli court order required us to do so” (emphasis added). So, there seems to be a discrepancy between the how the above linked article describes the legal situation (where a pre-ruling hinted that the court would order Google to hand over the IP address), and Google’s claim that a court order was issued requiring their compliance. Unless the court documents themselves are released, I guess we won’t know what really happened.