EFF Fights for Anonymity for Online Critic in Friday Hearing.

Message Board Poster Faces Baseless Lawsuit for Criticizing USA Technologies

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked a federal judge in San Francisco to quash a baseless subpoena aimed at outing an anonymous online critic of a Pennsylvania company called USA Technologies. A hearing in the case is set for Friday.

Earlier this year, EFF's client -- Yahoo! user "stokklerk" -- posted to the Yahoo! message board dedicated to the company, criticizing USA Technologies and its CEO George Jensen, Jr., for plummeting stock prices, high compensation rates for executives, and consistent lack of profitability. Another anonymous poster had similar complaints. In response, USA Technologies filed suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging that the statements violated federal securities regulations because they were part of a "scheme" for the authors to "enrich themselves through undisclosed manipulative trading tactics." USA Technologies also alleged that the online posts were defamatory. As part of that lawsuit, USA Technologies issued a subpoena out of the Northern District of California to Yahoo! asking for the critics' identities.

"The First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously so people can express their views without fear of retribution or reprisal," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "USA Technologies might not appreciate the glare of such public criticism, but Internet users like 'stokklerk' have a right to post such criticism in a public forum."

The First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously, especially about matters of public concern such as the performance of management of publicly traded companies. In addition, several state legislatures -- including California -- have passed laws to further protect individuals against lawsuits targeting them for exercising First Amendment rights. In its reply brief filed Friday, EFF underscores the problems with the USA Technologies lawsuit and asks the court to block attempts to enforce the Yahoo! subpoena.

For the full brief in support of the motion to quash the subpoena: