In an unprecedented ruling in Israel, a court ordered Facebook to reveal the identity of the person behind an allegedly fictitious Facebook profile.
The ruling was made in response to a slander suit against Facebook brought by the Ramat Gan municipal engineer. The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, which issued the order, warned Facebook that if it could not obtain the information, it must submit an affidavit and that the person writing the affidavit might be called for questioning.
Aliza Seidler Granot, who has been Ramat Gan’s municipal engineer for the past three and a half years, told the court that she has been the victim of slander by a fictitious Facebook profile named “Itai Amiram.” Since the page went live in 2015, it has published posts only against Ramat Gan municipal employees, including Granot, whom he called a “liar and a bad woman,” and also claimed she is involved in corruption.
Granot’s request to Facebook to remove the profile was turned down. She therefore filed the slander suit in 2018, through attorney Guy Ofir, against the people she suspects are behind the profile, said to be municipal employees, and against Facebook as the platform for the posts and for refusing to remove them.
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In response, Facebook told the court that “lively debate, varied opinions and active criticism of all government bodies are the foundation stones of Israeli democracy. The suit represents this – a private argument between the claimant and private individuals who used Facebook to air their criticism against municipal authorities, including claims of corruption, failed management and hypocrisy.”
Facebook also claimed that it is not a media outlet publishing information but only “hosts” others and therefore it cannot be sued for slander over users’ profiles. It also said it did not remove the posts because a request was not made to remove all of them, and with regard to those that were asked to be removed, Facebook Ireland, the subsidiary of global Facebook responsible for Israel, could not determine whether the post was clearly illegal; only a court could do so.
Facebook Ireland also responded, through its attorneys in Israel, Odelia Ofer, Pini Duek and Maayan Friedberg, that it found no indication that the profile was fictitious, and that it would not remove it unless a court ordered it to.
Since Facebook claimed it was not responsible for the posts and the profile was not fictitious, Granot’s attorney, Ofir, asked that the identity of the user be revealed. Facebook Ireland refused, claiming that Facebook United States was the owner of the information.
Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Vice-president Ilan Dafdi then ordered Facebook to provide Ofir with the identity of the person using the profile. “The claimant is also right in saying the main question is not whether the respondent is the owner of the information but whether it has access to the information and whether it acted robustly to obtain it. The judge ordered Facebook to reveal the details of the user within 30 days.
Judge Ilan Dafdi headed off Facebook’s claim that Facebook United States owned the information by stating: “if the information is…in the hands of another corporation bearing the name Facebook and it cannot obtain it due to a technical limitation or rules or for any other reason, then this must be stated in an affidavit and take into account that the person writing the affidavit could be called for questioning.”
Ofir, who specializes in suits involving Facebook, said that since no laws have been passed to cover the matter of revealing the identity of anonymous Facebook users, the courts have begun to understand that there is no choice but judicial legislation…to allow the possibility of identifying Facebook users who are breaking the law. “This is a sensitive case for Facebook, because Facebook Ireland has declared before the European Union privacy protection authorities that control over the information has been transferred to Facebook in the United States. This declaration is not true and Facebook is afraid I will question its witnesses about this.”