UPDATE: In November 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Glassdoor’s appeal. The company released the following statement:
We are disappointed in the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision denying our appeal to protect the identities of eight Glassdoor users whose contact information was being sought in connection with a federal criminal investigation into alleged fraud, waste, and abuse of federal funds. The case sought to unmask Glassdoor users who might be potential witnesses against the company under government investigation.
We argued that the lower court applied the wrong standard in placing the interests of government ahead of Americans’ protected free speech rights under the First Amendment. We had hoped to persuade the Ninth Circuit Court to require a higher standard for these requests. Glassdoor vigorously fights for our users’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, including sharing opinions online about their workplaces anonymously.
- San Francisco Chronicle: Glassdoor must reveal reviewers’ identities in fraud case, court rules
- CDT: Anonymous Speech Online Dealt a Blow in US v. Glassdoor Opinion
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Appeals Court’s Disturbing Ruling Jeopardizes Protections for Anonymous Speakers
ORIGINAL POST (June 16, 2017):
An individual’s right to anonymous free speech – which includes the ability of people to leave anonymous reviews of their workplace experiences – is a cornerstone of our society that inherently helps others and should be protected.
Whether in court or the legislature, with regulatory agencies or in public discourse, Glassdoor fights to defend anonymous free speech because we believe greater transparency around jobs and companies will allow people to make more informed decisions about where they choose to work.
Over our nine-year history, courts have almost always ruled that Glassdoor reviews are protected opinion. To date, we have succeeded in protecting the anonymity of our members in more than 80 cases. Here is a representative sample of our legal efforts.
In recent days, we launched an appeal of a U.S. District Court decision in Arizona to force us to unmask the identities of several Glassdoor members who anonymously shared their experiences and opinions about their workplaces and company leadership. The case involves Glassdoor vs. the U.S. government, which is seeking Glassdoor member identities to be potential witnesses related to a company under government investigation.
We believe the lower court applied the wrong standard in placing the interests of government ahead of Americans’ protected free speech rights under the First Amendment. We hope to persuade the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to require a higher standard for these requests.
There are several respected organizations and companies that support First Amendment rights and protections as well as personal privacy. We are in the process of coordinating with organizations and companies that might file “Friend of the Court” briefs to ask the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to require the government to meet a higher standard before infringing on the free speech rights of Americans.
Some organizations have already offered their words of support:
TechFreedom, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to promoting the progress of technology that improves the human condition:
The government’s argument presumes there’s something nefarious about posting online anonymously. That’s absurd. People use sites like Glassdoor in order to speak candidly about their employers and provide valuable information to other inquiring users. They’re effectively the whistleblowers of the workplace. No one’s saying that law enforcement shouldn’t be able to unmask them — only that they should have to provide some showing of the need to do so.
That’s what the Supreme Court actually said in the 1972 decision that the government invokes — that there needs to be a balancing test. Requiring platforms like Glassdoor to unmask users unless the platform can prove that the government acted in bad faith would effectively give law enforcement a blank check to unmask anonymous users. Here, it might just be eight users, but tomorrow, it could be all eight thousand users whose only “crime” is that they happen to share an employer. This precedent could lead to even greater abuse at larger social networks and have a chilling effect on the viability of these valuable services. The Supreme Court never intended any of this. That’s why we’ll support Glassdoor in standing up for the privacy of everyone who posts anonymously online.
Media Alliance, a media resource and advocacy center for media workers, non-profit organizations, and social justice activists:
Anonymous online expression is a key tenet for many of our civil rights including labor organizing, political dissent and artistic freedom. Individuals should not have to fear the government will compel the disclosure of their identities from the platform of their choice without their consent when they have committed no crime. As an organization composed of professional and citizen journalists and advocates for a variety of causes, Media Alliance supports Glassdoor in their appeal of a government order to disclose the identities of individuals who posted on their site anonymously about the practices of an employer. In order to breech First Amendment protections for free association and the unfettered exchange of ideas and opinions, the legal standard must be rigorous and use the highest possible bar. These are fundamental constitutional rights.
If your organization is interested in participating to support free speech protections and a higher standard for government inquiries, please contact the Glassdoor Legal team at firstname.lastname@example.org.