Note: This page covers information specific to Washington. For general information concerning legal protections for anonymous speech see the Legal Protections for Anonymous Speech section of this guide.
Washington law with regard to the protection of anonymous online speech is unclear. The only relevant Washington case is Doe v. 2TheMart.com, 140 F.Supp.2d 1088 (W.D. Was. 2001), which considered a subpoeana to discover the identity of an anonymous witness, as opposed to the usual situation of an anonymous defendant. For this situation, the court adopted a "good faith" standard with a few extra protections. It is not clear how this case applies to a subpoeana asking for disclosure of the identity of an anonymous defendant.Doe v. 2TheMart.com, 140 F.Supp.2d 1088 (W.D. Was. 2001)
Stockholders of the company 2TheMart.com sued its directors, claiming that they were responsible for a recent fall in the company's stock price. The directors tried to defend themselves by arguing that the fall in stock price was actually caused by negative comments about the company posted on an online message board by anonymous users. To support this argument, the directors subpoenaed InfoSpace, the Seattle-based company that ran the website, for the identities of the posters. InfoSpace notified the anonymous posters, and one of them filed a motion to quash the subpoena.
The court announced a standard for deciding when a court should allow disclosure of the identity of an anonymous witness. The court required the plaintiff to satisfy the following four requirements: (1) the plaintiff seeks the subpoena in good faith and not for an improper purpose; (2) the information requested relates to a core claim or defense; (3) the information is directly and materially relevant to the claim or defense; and (4) the information that the plaintiff needs for that claim or defense is not available anywhere else.
Applying that test, the court found that information about the identities of the anonymous posters was not directly and materially relevant to a core claim or defense. Therefore, it granted the anonymous poster's motion to quash the subpoena.