The district court denied injunctive relief, holding that the disclosure requirement was a content-neutral time, place and manner restriction on speech that did not violate the First Amendment, and that Peterson lacked standing to pursue his claims because he had not suffered an injury in fact.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed solely on the grounds of standing. It reasoned that "Appellant’s online postings are wholly inconsistent with his invocation of this right because they demonstrate that his expression did not rely on his ability to remain anonymous." The Court held that
Based on these voluntary revelations, the concerns underlying the right to anonymous speech simply are not present here. The disclosure requirement exposed Appellant to no danger of harassment or retaliation to which he had not already subjected himself. Because anonymity did not serve as a catalyst for Appellant’s expression, the NTIA’s disclosure requirement was no threat to his speech activities and did not cause him injury. We, therefore, conclude that Appellant cannot establish an injury in fact for purposes of standing.One question lingers in my mind. The record does not indicate that Peterson revealed to the world that he was the registrant and operator of the web site. Even if he did reveal personal information about himself on the site, he apparently did so as a user of the forum. As a user of the forum, I don't think he would have been subject to the same risks as the operator of the forum. A person who was displeased with the views expressed on the forum may not retaliate against the person(s) expressing those views, but that same person may very well wish to retaliate against the person who operates the forum. It seems to me that Peterson's conduct in revealing certain personal information as a user of the forum should not preclude him for challenging the rule where the primary piece of information he sought to protect -- his identity as the registrant of the domain and the operator of the site -- was still secret.