A November 2017 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has weighed in on the expectation of privacy and First Amendment rights afforded to anonymous contributors to online content, finding that a subpoena issued by a federal grand jury in connection with a company under investigation was being pursued in good faith, and that Glassdoor (a website for individuals to anonymously review their employers) was obligated to disclose requested information about selected users who had posted anonymous comments about their employment at the company under investigation. Companies seeking to preserve the privacy and First Amendment rights of their users may have a tough time opposing a government subpoena for information absent a showing of bad faith underlying the request.
In March 2017, Glassdoor received a grand jury subpoena for the identity of individuals who posted reviews about a company embroiled in a grand jury investigation. Glassdoor moved to quash the subpoena on the grounds that it would violate the individuals’ First Amendment rights to associational privacy and anonymous speech. On November 8, 2017, the Ninth Circuit rejected Glassdoor’s motion, finding that the subpoena was not issued in bad faith. See In re Grand Jury Subpoena, No. 16-03-217, Order. This decision may alter the defining line on when circumstances will overrule individuals’ expectations of privacy online.