November 05, 2009

Free Speech or an Invasion of Privacy?

On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard arguments regarding a case that calls into question whether or not online commentators are protected by the First Amendment. The case of course has much wider implications involving what constitutes a viable media entity covered by the freedoms afforded under the First Amendment – even if that media entity is an anonymous pajama-clad blogger sitting in his/her basement churning out opinion columns.

The case focuses on a mortgage lender that was being investigated for such things as fraud and forgery and the online mortgage watchdog group that posted confidential financial information about the lender, as it protected the source of that confidential information. A lower court ordered the online mortgage watchdog group to reveal its source prompting the website to appeal the decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. While both parties may agree that this is a First Amendment issue, further speculation about how a Supreme Court decision will impact current media protections differ.

It may be true that there have been times in the past where traditional media outlets have been forced to disclose confidential sources for the purpose of revealing essential information, but the potential threat to online commentators could be great. Depending upon how the court decides, will online bloggers still be able to protect their own identity and the identity of their sources while publishing confidential documents? No matter the decision of the New Hampshire Supreme Court you can bet that this case will eventually land in the Supreme Court of the United States.

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