Publius Blogs

Protecting online anonymity


Blogs are often likened to the pamphleteering that helped ignite the American Revolution. In some communities, the targets of anonymous blogs are trying to crack down on their Internet critics with the vengeance of King George III.

Start with Memphis, which last year ranked second only to Detroit in violent crimes per 100,000 residents. The city's police department has been beset by scandal, including a brutal beating of a transsexual in a Memphis police station that was caught on video last February and quickly made its way across the Internet. Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin has responded by devoting time and city resources to investigating…a website.

MPD Enforcer 2.0 has become an online forum where Memphis police officers and citizens gather to dish dirt on Godwin and the brass at the Memphis Police Department. In July Godwin sought a court order demanding the identity of the site's administrator, who goes by the pseudonym Dirk Diggler, after the lead character in the movie Boogie Nights. Godwin is also trying to force America Online, which hosts the email account Diggler uses on the site, to reveal Diggler's identity. And Tennessee District Attorney Bill Gibbons has asked the state Bureau of Investigation to investigate whether police documents were illegally leaked to MPD Enforcer.

In a similar case late last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation successfully represented the proprietor of Da Truth Squad against the township of Manalapan, New Jersey. The blogger was able to quash a city subpoena that tried to compel Google to turn over his identity.

In March 2008, Whitewater, Wisconsin, Police Chief James Coan assigned city employees to uncover the identity of "John Adams," the proprietor of, a blog critical of Coan. The chief put two detectives, the city's director of public works, its information technology officer, and the city clerk on the case. In email messages to other officers, Coan identified the blogger as a "suspect," although no crime had been committed.

Coan has told the La Crosse Tribune he was concerned about "potential threats" from "someone who seems so extremely angry at me and with our department." In January he and his officers paid a visit to the home of 68-year-old Laird Scott, whom Coan said he was "99.9 percent certain" was the blogger. He was wrong.