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Finding an anonymous blog commenter’s true identity

Blogger tips by Burleson Consulting

July 2010

Note:  I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.  If you want legal advice, see a lawyer, not me . . .

Personally, I hope that there is a special place in hell for people who defame others anonymously on the Internet, and I don't see any reason why there should not be Federal law requiring anybody who publishes (on the internet or anywhere) to disclose their true identity.

I have noted that not all bloggers are online service providers, and  bloggers can be sued for allowing blog comments.

But how do you get the true identity of the anonymous blogger comments?

There are many pitfalls in disclosing the true identity of a blog commenter.

  • It’s easy to get a court order mandating the blogger to disclose the IP address of the person who posted the blog comment.

  •  The next hurdle is resolving the IP address into an actual identity.  When a person connects to the internet via a dial-up, DSL, or Satellite, the ISP assigns an IP address tot eh individual.  Even though it’s easy to keep records of IP address assignment, there are no laws requiring an ISP to keep records, and there are many unscrupulous ISP’s who deliberately facilitate internet crime by refusing to keep IP address assignment details.  

When a blog commenter wants to publish libelous comments they will often make their statement through an “open relay”, a foreign computer that acts as a proxy, hiding the “real” IP address of the commenter.  In Internet Explorer, it just take a second to pop-in the IP address of a proxy server, effectively making the person's "real" IP address impossible to locate.

I have had my lawyers serve court orders on foreign ISP’s, and because most of them hate Americans, getting justice can be fruitless.  Even within the jurisdiction of the United States, ISP’s are not required by law to track the identity of the people when they are assigned IP addresses at sign-on time.

The technology for keeping IP address records is cheap and simple, and it’s time that ISP’s step-up to their responsibility and stop hiding behind section 230 of the DMCA.

The DMCA, (47 U.S.C. sec. 230) says that online service providers are not publishers (and hence not responsible for content posted by their users), but many people misunderstand that a blogger IS NOT an internet service provider.  For example, AOL is an online service provider, while somebody’s blog is clearly not an ISP.

This DMCA immunity does not extend to record keeping, and this loophole also allows terrorists to communicate anonymously.   Personally, I would like to see Federal legislation making it a crime for any ISP, foreign or domestic, to fail to keep records of IP address assignment.

Note:  As a former database administrator for Lawyers Coop (ALR, AmJur), Shepards and Bancroft Whitney, I know that the case law changes daily.  If you are planning to cite a judgment relating to Internet Law, make sure to have your attorney Shepardize it and check the Bancroft-Whitney latest case service to insure that it is still valid caselaw. 


For more of my details on the evolving landscape of the Internet, see my book Web Stalkers, Protecting yourself from Internet Criminals & Psychopaths, published by Rampant TechPress.




Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

Suggestions?  We are always seeking new tips for the professional at leisure, and any suggestions would be most welcome.  If you find an error or have a suggestion for improving our content, we would appreciate your feedback. 

Copyright � 1996 -  2010 by Donald K Burleson. All rights reserved.