ST. LOUIS, Mo. — A federal judge in Missouri has ruled that over 40 plaintiffs suing the adultery site Ashley Madison for failing to protect users from hackers will have to reveal their identities in order for the case to move forward.
The 42 plaintiffs currently listed in the case have heretofore gone by the anonymous pseudonym “John Doe” so as “to reduce the risk of potentially catastrophic personal and professional consequences that could befall them and their families.”
Attorneys for the men had asked the court to make the anonymity permanent, but U.S. District Court Judge John Ross said the plaintiffs will have to provide their names in order to sue. He said that while rape and molestation victims have been permitted to remain anonymous by the courts, the Ashley Madison matter was different.
While acknowledging that the “possible injury to plaintiffs rises above the level of mere embarrassment or harm to reputation and weighs against public disclosure,” Ross advised that there is also “a compelling public interest in open court proceedings, particularly in the context of a class action, where a plaintiff seeks to represent a class of consumers who have a personal stake in the case and a heightened interest in knowing who purports to represent their interests in the litigation.”
“Moreover, the personal and financial information plaintiffs seek to protect has already been released on the Internet and made available to the public,” he noted.
The adultery site had been hacked in July of last year, exposing the names of over 30 million users of the site. 42 men soon filed a class action lawsuit against Avid Dating Life Inc., which runs Ashley Madison, contending that it failed to protect their personal and financial information and thus keep their accounts secret. It also alleged that the site created fake female accounts to attract men.
Attorneys for Avid Dating Life argued in court that the men’s “sexual preferences and habits do not constitute
information of the utmost intimacy so as to require anonymity.”
“Before the consolidated complaint is filed, plaintiffs currently proceeding under pseudonym who are seeking to serve as class representatives must decide whether to proceed using their real names or dismiss their complaints and proceed, without publicly disclosing their names, as class members,” Ross ruled.
He said that he would be willing to revisit the matter should most the men drop out of the suit.
As previously reported, following the massive data dump of the spouse-cheating website, it was learned that hundreds of employees with the Obama administration had paid accounts with the site and used their federal offices to access it.
The Associated Press (AP) reported last August that it traced hundreds of the 37 million Ashley Madison users back to the White House, Congress, Pentagon, Department of State, Department of the Treasury and over 20 other governmental departments.
“They included at least two assistant U.S. attorneys; an information technology administrator in the Executive Office of the President; a division chief, an investigator and a trial attorney in the Justice Department; a government hacker at the Homeland Security Department and another DHS employee who indicated he worked on a U.S. counter-terrorism response team,” the outlet outlined.
Approximately 15,000 email addresses connected with the site ended with .gov or .mil. Over 6,700 were enlisted in the Army, 1,600 in the Navy and 800 in the Marines.
State government employees were also found as users as a result of the data dump, with 73 users being from the state of Kentucky alone.