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Many believe that their identities will be kept confidential when they post "anonymous" comments online. But, that isn't always the case, as former Teaneck, New Jersey, Councilmember Michael Gallucci, can attest.

Apparently, Mr. Gallucci's identity was disclosed by NJ.com, an internet service provider (ISP) that hosts a "current events, activities and news" website.

Like other ISPs, NJ.com's account registration process and user agreement provided that Gallucci's identity would not be revealed to third parties unless the ISP was "legally required" to do so within the context of a police investigation or legal proceeding.

In this particular instance, Gallucci posted a series of anonymous postings that were critical of the Teaneck Fire Department  and one of its firefighters. When that individual later served a subpoena on NJ.com, Gallucci's identity was disclosed without any advance notice or opportunity for Gallucci to challenge the subpoena or the ISP's decision.

Upon learning of his anonymous posts, City officials (such as the Mayor of Teaneck), a local newspaper, and union officials called for Gallucci to resign and, on January 10, 2006, he acquiesced.

In a lawsuit filed last month in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mr. Gallucci asserts that he suffered "financial and emotional damage" as a result of the ISP's disclosure of his identity.

His complaint asserts a number of different legal theories, including "breach of contract" (a violation of the ISP's "user agreement and privacy policy"), and "breach of fiduciary duty" (disclosing confidential information which the ISP had warranted would not be revealed), thus violating a "trust and confidence" which Gallucci had placed in the ISP.

In an e-mail circulated earlier today, Jennifer Soble, one of Gallucci's attorneys commented as follows:

When a newspaper is asked or even subpoenaed to identify a source of one of its news stories, any paper worth its salt would fight the subpoena before revealing that information. When a newspaper invites citizens to comment on its Web site, it owes those citizens the same protections against unreasonable intrusions into their privacy.

That seems pretty fundamental, wouldn't you agree? 

Here's hoping NJ.com gets slammed for failing to take all reasonable and appropriate precautions to safeguard the identity of its users.

For a copy of the complaint, please use the following link: Gallucci v. New Jersy On-Line, LLC