New Criterion for Disclosure of Internet Users' Identity

In 850/06 Rami Mor v. Yedioth Ahronot et al (22.4.2007), Judge Yitzhak Amit of the Haifa District Court set a new criterion for when the court should order an ISP to disclose the identity of an internet user who published libelous statements. According to his ruling, an anonymous user's identity is revealed when the user's online submissions amount to a civil wrong combined with a supplemental factor.

Judge Amit expanded the previous legal criterion formulated in March 2006 by a Jerusalem Magistrate Court, in the case of 4995/05 Jane Doe v. Bezeq Benleumi et al, ("Jane Doe") the  most extensive ruling on the issue in Israeli case law. In Jane Doe, Justice Michal Agmon-Gonen concluded that only in the event of a viable suspicion of criminal liability, should the court consider ordering an ISP to disclose a user's identity.
In Rami Mor v. Yedioth Ahronot , plaintiff has been practicing alternative medicine for 15 years. Defendant Yedioth Internet operates Ynet, one of the most popular websites in Israel. As part of Ynet, Yedioth operates a Naturopathy forum, in which plaintiff was an active participant. He claims that on three consecutive days (3-5 of July 2006) the forum published users’ statements that were libelous towards him and injured his reputation. Those statements referred to him as a charlatan and a thief who lacks any medical training, etc.  

Judge Amit denied the plaintiff’s request, but concluded that in future instances, and in contradiction to the Jane Doe criterion, a viable suspicion of criminal liability should not be a prerequisite condition. In contrast, he suggested a more flexible criterion that will take into consideration supplemental factors, such as: whether the motion is submitted in good faith; its context – whether or not the statements were part of a political or public discourse; the severity of the allegedly libelous statements and the user's expectation to remain anonymous.     

Israel's jurisprudence still lacks a comprehensive cyberspace-related legislation. In 2005, a joint ministerial committee published the Electronic Commerce Law 2005 Memorandum in an attempt to fill this lacuna and offer a comprehensive solution within the framework of an electronic commerce law. Judge Amit quoted Section 15 of the Memorandum, which proposed to empower the court to order an ISP to disclose a user’s identity, even if the there is a just and viable suspicion of tort liability.     

Judge Amit concluded that although the statements were apparently libelous, he chose to deny the motion as it would be unfair, in light of this "change of legal climate" that the anonymous user, who published the statements, shall bear the outcome of the plaintiff's ideological legal struggle.