A 9th Circuit Court decision, if left to stand, could fundamentally put at risk individuals’ ‘First Amendment Rights.” The case in question is U.S v Glassdoor, inc. Here is the summary of the 9th circuit court’s ruling:
The panel affirmed the district court’s denial of Glassdoor, Inc.’s motion to quash a grand jury subpoena duces tecum that would require Glassdoor to disclose the identifying information of eight users who posted anonymous reviews about another company on its Internet website; and sustained the contempt order entered to enforce it.
…..The panel held that because Glassdoor had neither alleged nor established bad faith on the part of the government in its investigation, under Branzburg, enforcement of the subpoena duces tecum to identify potential witnesses in aid of its inquiries did not violate the First Amendment rights of Glassdoor’s uses.
The ruling essentially means that unless you can show the government has “bad faith” in asking for personal information of anonymous users on your website, you can’t protect the private information of your users from the government.
From the court record itself. here are the details behind this ruling:
An Arizona federal grand jury is investigating a government contractor that administers two Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare programs. The grand jury is examining whether the subject1 of its inquiries has committed wire fraud and misused government funds in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 and 18 U.S.C. § 641, respectively.
As of March 2017, current and former employees of the subject company had posted 125 reviews on Glassdoor.com.
The investigation here is at an early stage and may well result in the grand jury’s decision not to accuse the subject of any criminal acts. We do not identify the subject of these inquiries to protect—to the extent we can while adjudicating this subpoena challenge—the secrecy embodied in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), designed to protect innocent parties who are ultimately never indicted for any crime.
Many of the reviews criticize the subject’s management and business practices. For example, one anonymous employee wrote that it “[m]anipulate[s] the system to make money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Another asserted that “[t]here’s a real disconnect between how this program runs and how the VA thinks the program runs.”
On March 6, 2017, the government served Glassdoor with a subpoena that ordered it to provide the grand jury with “Company Reviews” and associated “reviewer information” for every review of the subject on Glassdoor.com.
The requested “reviewer information” included “internet protocol addresses and logs associated with all reviews including date and time of post, username, email address, resume, billing information such as first name, last name, credit card information, billing address, payment history, and any additional contact information available.” The government attached eight “exemplar reviews,” all of which were critical of the subject.
Glassdoor notified the government that it believed “the scope of the request raise[d] issues associated with the First Amendment.” The government agreed to limit its request to the reviewer information associated with just the eight exemplar reviews, and it told Glassdoor the information would enable it “to contact those reviewers as third party witnesses to certain business practices relevant to [its] investigation.” Glassdoor maintained its objection to the subpoena and filed a motion to quash.
The Federal government is essentially investigating possible VA employees for possibly using company resources to try to bring attention to someone who they think is actually ripping the VA off. To get this information, the Federal government, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect a possible scammer of its own government program from being called out, is seeking a subpoena to broadly be given the personal information of every single commenter on glassdoors.com.
This ruling, if held up, means that the Federal government can make virtually any claim it wants, with little in the way of actual facts to support its suspicions, and can make incredibly broad requests for personal information from websites based on that claim.