Right now I am on a panel at the CFP conference on "Blogging and Privacy" at the 2006 CFP conference or, as session moderator Ian Kerr notes, what should be called the "Blogging under Pseudonyms" panel. Also on the panel are David Lat of Underneath Their Robes and Wonkette, and Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
I'm up first, and basically said what I've said before about why I adopted the Juan Non-Volokh pseudonym (see, e.g, here and here). I also noted that everything I ever said about "Juan" — where he grew up, went to school , and the like — was true about me. I also confessed that were I faced with the choice again, I am not sure I would have adopted the Juan personna to blog on the VC.
David Lat explains he started UTR because he always had a "strange fascination" with federal judges, and so started the blog as "People" or "US Weekly" focused on the federal judiciary — chronicling the piccadilloes of Justice O'Connor rather than Justice Timberlake. Like me, David was initially unaware how easy it was to expose oneself through careless e-mailing and other indiscretions. Unlike me, Judge Kozinski clued A3G in to the practice of "safe e-mailing" and so he managed to avoid too many indiscretions.
Article III Groupie, David's UTR personna, was created to be the opposite of him in most cosmetic respects (a female attorney in private practice on the West Coast, rather than a male attorney working for the government in New Jersey). Unlike Juan, A3G's views were hers, not David's — or so he wanted to maintain (though, he notes, most didn't buy it).
After a year-and-a-half or so, David was starting to feel resentful of A3G's fame — "she" got the credit for his work — and also saw that his cover might soon be blown. So, he made the decision to "go out in style," on his own terms — in a Jeffrey toobin story in the New Yorker. The story was great, though was not received as well in the U.S. Attorney's office where David worked as it was in the blogosphere. David did not lose his job, but he had to take down the UTR site to remain in government employ. Shortly thereafter, he received an offer to blog at Wonkette, and moved to D.C. No longer in government employ, David notes, he does feel somewhat freer to express himself, as he is no longer "in" the world about which he blogs.
Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation summarized the legal issues involved with anonymous and pseudonymous blogging — things I should have known before blogging as Juan. For instance, while there is a well-establshed First Amendment right to speak anonymously that may protect anonymous bloggers from subpoenas and the like, there are still real risks. The right to speak anonymously does not necessarily prevent the issuance of a subpoena to an ISP to expose an anonymous blogger or poster. Most ISPs will give you notice, however, which creates an opportunity to seek to quash the subpoena, but that may create further risks of exposure. Those considering anonymous or pseudonymous blogging should check out EFF's info page on the subject.
One audience member raises a really good question about how pseudonymous bloggers can maintain their credibility when their personal biases (and perhaps even financial interests) are not disclosed. I respond that this is a real issue, and one of the reasons I would often disclose personal information about myself so readers would know where I was coming from on certain issues. David notes, however, that there is a limit to how much a pseudonymous blogger can disclose about his or her biases without disclosing his or her identity.
Ian closes noting that most of the discussion focused on the relatively happy situation of people like David and myself who choose to blog pseudonymously, and have the luxury of designing an exit strategy. In some cases, however, people may adopt pseudonyms due to legal or other issues beyond their control, and in some cases the costs of exposure may be quite significant.
Daniel Solove also blogged the panel here.