Google has agreed to hand over the IP address of a user of its Blogger service accused of "slandering"* three Israeli council members.
According to Globes Online, the trio of Shaarei Tikva men - local council chairman Gideon Idan, Shaarei Tikva director general Haim Blumenfeld, and council member Avi Yokobovich - were for more than a year accused of various criminal acts, including "pretending to be handicapped in order to receive discounts on local property taxes, receiving bribes from a contractor, and having ties to criminal gangs".
Finally, the three filed a NIS 300,000 (£37,500) lawsuit aginst the blogger, naming the defendant as "anonymous". They also requested a court order requiring Google to hand over his IP address, with which they could track him down via his ISP.
Google initially declined on the grounds that "disclosing the blogger's identity violated rulings on the balance between freedom of expression and a person's right to his reputation".
However, Judge Oren Schwartz decided that "the blog's content raised suspicions of criminal conduct", citing a Tel Aviv District Court ruling that "the details of a surfer may be disclosed only if the slander was tantamount to criminal defamation".
Google and the three litigants finally agreed that 72 hours before the hearing on the case, the latter would leave a message on the offending blog inviting the author to "disclose his identity, participate in the hearing, or oppose the disclosure of his identity by filing a motion as 'anonymous'". If he declined, Google would supply the IP address.
Globes Online's report, dated yesterday, does not clarify when the case is due to be heard in court. ®
According to CNet, a Google spokesman has clarified the company's position thus:
Google's approach to personal data is clear - we only ever hand over information about our users to third parties (such as law enforcement agencies) when they have been through the proper legal process. This ensures that we are able both to protect the privacy of our users and act responsibly where people may have used Google's products to break the law.
In terms of Blogger, we have clear terms and conditions, which users agree to when they sign up for the service. These make clear that: violent, hateful or copyright infringing content, for example, is against our rules; violation of our terms of service may lead not only to the termination of the users' account but also "state and federal penalties and other legal consequences"; and Google may investigate any violations to "comply with any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request."
In terms of this case, we handed over the IP address of the Blogger after an Israeli court order required us to do so. Google has not blocked the blog or taken it down. Google gave the IP address to the court (the court handed it over to the complainant).
*We use Globes Online's term. In the UK, this would be classed as libel.