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Unmasking Anonymous Online Users in Israel

2 Hukim - Journal on Legislation, 51-131 (2010)

81 Pages Posted: 27 May 2010 Last revised: 17 Apr 2017

Michael Birnhack

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 26, 2010


What should be the legal rule as to unmasking anonymous online users? The typical case is defaming content, generated by anonymous users. The Article discusses this burning issue in the Israeli context, in a comparative manner and within three intertwined frameworks. First, I explore the meaning of anonymity and argue that it is worthy of legal protection both as an instance of the principle of free speech (similar to American jurisprudence), and as an instance of privacy (closer to the European jurisprudence). Second, I argue that free speech should be an organizing principle in regulating the digital environment. The internet offers a unique discursive space. Any proposed rule should be evaluated as to its direct and indirect impact on free speech. Third, the regulation of online anonymity should be located within a broader framework of law and technology, which is attentive to the dynamic inter-relationship between the two.

The Article analyzes the development of the legal rule in Israeli court regarding the unmasking of anonymous users, including the recent decision (April 2010) of the Supreme Court in the case of Mor v. Barak Online, Ltd., in which the Court ruled that current Israeli law lacks a proper procedural frame to enable courts to order the unmasking of users, the result being that courts lack authority to issue such orders. I propose a procedure in which the ISPs first and the courts later, if needed, serve as an intermediary between the offended party and the anonymous user, so to maximize the privacy and free speech of the user, of potential users, while minimizing potential abuse of the unmasking procedure and enabling redress in due cases.

Notes: Downloadable document is in Hebrew.

Keywords: user generated content, anonymity, free speech, anonymous users, unmasking, defamation, copyright

Suggested Citation

Birnhack, Michael, Unmasking Anonymous Online Users in Israel (May 26, 2010). 2 Hukim - Journal on Legislation, 51-131 (2010). Available at SSRN:

Michael D. Birnhack (Contact Author)

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law ( email )

Ramat Aviv
Tel Aviv 69978, IL
+972-3-640-6623 (Phone)

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