John Downes reports that the Joint Managerial Body (representing Irish secondary schools) has sought legal advice with a view to shutting down the service, only to be told that as the site is US based there is little that can be done. He also reports that the JMB has raised the issue with the Data Protection Commissioner, who has "indicated that the site is outside of [his] jurisdiction".
In the Business supplement, Fergal Crehan addresses the libel issues raised by the site, and also discusses the question of whether posters to the site could be identified (Article also available here) :
Contrary to widespread belief, the internet does not afford absolute anonymity, and Operation Amethyst, the Garda child pornography investigation, has shown that there is an electronic trail which can be followed from a web server back to an individual computer.I have to quibble with Fergal on two points here though.
Ratemyteachers states on its site that it complies with all court orders and subpoenas, but is it possible for an Irish teacher to get such a court order? If the principle established in the Motley Fool case is followed in Ireland, then the answer may be yes.
Whether Rate My Teachers would comply with an Irish rather than a US court order is unknown, and although there is provision for such an order to be enforced by a US court, the cost of such enforcement would seem to be prohibitive.
The Motley Fool ruling also suggested that in the interests of fair procedure, the person who is to be "unmasked" should be contacted by the web host or ISP and given an opportunity to give reasons why he should not have his details passed on, thus allowing a court to take a more balanced view in deciding the issue. A court may decline to give such an order, for example, in "whistleblower" situations, where the anonymity of a poster is of great importance.
Second, it's misleading to say that an Irish court order would be enforced by a US court. The US legal environment in relation to defamation is very different, since the First Amendment gives strong protection to speech in general and anonymous speech in particular. In several cases US courts have refused to enforce English libel decisions which they felt conflicted with the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Consequently, to enforce any Irish order in the US, the plaintiff would have to show that the Irish decision was compatible with the First Amendment - which could be very difficult, given the differences between Irish and US libel laws.
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