An orthodox Jewish rabbi accused of having extra-marital affairs has won a High Court ruling that Google must divulge the identities of those who blackened his name.
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By Hayley Dixon
3:14PM GMT 08 Feb 2013
The judge ruled that those who posted “weasly comments” about Rabbi Chaim Halpern on his blog could not hide behind the “shield of anonymity”
Google, who campaigners claim have a questionable attitude toward private data, were not represented in court and did not resist the rabbi's application.
The rabbi brought legal action after a blogger who goes under the pseudonym "Ifyoutickleus" and several others are said to have posted comments on his Google-hosted blog about him having affairs.
Mrs Justice Gloster ruled that Rabbi Halpern "has been identified as the subject matter" of the blog, which suggests "that he is somebody who conducts extra marital affairs, though not on a scale of Ryan Giggs."
She ordered that Google hand over the identities of those concerned to lawyers for the rabbi, a religious leader based in the Golders Green Jewish community.
The rabbi's barrister, Chloe Strong, said that Google had remained neutral in relation to the application for the identities to be revealed and, whilst they did not consent to it, neither did they oppose.
Google, “albeit innocently”, had become caught up in a “wrongful act” and therefore has a duty to assist the rabbi by giving him information so that he can identify the blogger, she told London’s High Court.
Allowing the application, the judge ordered Google Inc to "disclose the registered name, address or IP address in their possession in respect of the blogger Ifyoutickleus", as well as those of the other individuals complained of who made comments about the rabbi.
In what may be viewed as a marker for future cases in the English courts, Mrs Justice Gloster concluded: "I take the view that if people are making what appear to be prima facie defamatory comments, they should not be protected by the cloak of anonymity.
"Though of course the protection of freedom of speech is very important, people who make weasly comments online in circumstances such as this should not be allowed to hide behind the shield of anonymity."
In 2009 Google, who say they will only give out details uwhen ordered, revealed that student Rosemary Port was the author of the anonymous Skanks in NYC blog which attacked model Liskula Cohen. Ms Cohen then launched legal action.
Last month an Australian court ordered that Google provide email addresses, telephone numbers and the IP addresses of the individuals alleged to have defamed sports player-turned-businessman Shane Radbone.
In the UK the ruling is known as a Norwich Pharmacal order, which is granted against a third party when the identity of an alleged wrongdoer is unknown, and it was first used in 1974.
It is now commonly used to force website operators and service providers to reveal IP addresses and other details in potential libel cases.
In July last year it was used to force Facebook to disclose details of alleged ‘cyber-bullies’ to complainant Nicola Brookes.