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Are we obligated to provide commenter information to police?

By Student Press Law Center staff

Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Updated: Tuesday, July 27, 2010

About the SPLC

The Student Press Law Center is an advocate for student free-press rights and provides information, advice and legal assistance at no charge to students and the educators who work with them. Ask questions, get help and learn more about their site SPLC.org, or click the links above or below. Full story

 

The police are performing an investigation and have asked for detailed information about one of our commenters. What information do I have to provide?
 
Until law enforcement officials (or anyone else requesting information) present you with a valid, court-ordered, written subpoena, you are generally under no obligation to provide police with any information about users/visitors to your site. (The only exception being in the extraordinary case where a person's health or safety are seriously and imminently at risk.)
 
Even if police present you with a subpoena, you still have the right to contest its validity. Every state but one (Wyoming) has recognized a reporters' privilege that offers journalists protection (a "shield") from having to disclose certain types of information obtained or created as part of the newsgathering process. Most courts say that getting information from the media should be a last resort, not a starting point.
 
For more information, check out the SPLC's state-by-state Student Media Guide to Protecting Sources and Information.

 

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