June 1, 2016 by
Photo by Anthony Farris on Flickr.
Cindy Cohn is executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the latest contributor to a Knight Foundation series on the First Amendment. Knight recently announced the launch of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University to promote free expression in the digital age and will feature columns throughout the year on First Amendment issues.
In our increasing digital world, there are new challenges to free expression every day. At the Electronic Frontier Foundation our mission is to be on the front lines, battling these emerging threats before permanent erosion sets in. Right now, we are keeping a close watch on the want-to-be censors’ latest trick: so-called “John Doe” injunctions and orders to get speech they don’t like removed from the internet entirely.
With a “John Doe” order, the person who is accused of wrongdoing is unknown and, therefore, unnamed. So often the defendant doesn’t even know they are involved in a lawsuit. That means that in many of these cases, there is no one to challenge the plaintiff’s claims to a judge, leading to outrageous outcomes. These injunctions are especially dangerous when they order the removal of content from the internet.