People have been free to express their opinions using pseudonyms since the early days of our nation. It enables people to speak their minds without fear of retribution. ACLU legal advocacy is protecting this right for people speaking in cyberspace. In 2001 the ACLU and the Electronic Freedom Foundation won a precedent-setting ruling in which the U.S. District Court in Seattle recognized that people have the right to speak anonymously on an Internet bulletin board. This year the threat of ACLU legal action did the trick.
This winter an individual involved in a lawsuit in Illinois served InfoSpace, a Seattle-based Internet service provider, with a groundless demand to reveal the identities and credit card numbers of people who had used pseudonyms in a chat room run by Silicon Investor, an InfoSpace subsidiary. The ACLU supported the right of the chat room participants to maintain their privacy. Citing last year's ruling, we contacted the individual's attorney to say that the ACLU would file a motion to quash the subpoena and would seek sanctions for his having filed a baseless demand. The subpoena was quickly dropped.