I was once an avid, though terrible, golfer. I haven't hit the links in four years, and I haven't followed the pro tour as closely as I used to. However, I can say, from what I recall, that Phil Mickelson — Lefty, as he's often called, left-handers being so rare in the sport — was never a favourite golfer of mine. His short game was inconsistent. His judgment was suspect. I didn't like his tempo.
I *can* say these things. Freedom to criticize golfers is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, though I can't remember under which amendment. I cannot say things like, “Phil Mickelson's wife had an affair,” or “Phil Mickelson fathered and illegitimate child.” This, under Western law, is defamation — slander if spoken, libel if it's of the printed or pixellated variety.
Mickelson is, as we speak, having Quebec ISP Videotron dig up the identity of one “Fogroller,” who apparently published just such accusations in comments posted on Yahoo Sports last November. It was a bit of an indirect route, though not too complex: A San Diego Superior Court subpoenaed Yahoo, which identified Fogroller as a Montrealer, with Videotron as his ISP. (I'm saying “his” because, though I don't know who tis is, only a guy would be such a dolt.) Mickelson then filed suit in a Quebec Superior Court to force Videotron to reveal the identity of the user. According to the Associated Press, Videotron is happy to provide the information.
Good on them.
It's not just the anonymity of the Internet that makes dumb people do bad things. Being abstracted from the physical can also be mistranslated as abstraction from the law. But at the heart of it is a culture of entitlement. I'm entitled to free music, free movies, free software. People who wouldn't consider shoplifting download pirated content. Whether or not the content distribution model is broken, there's no excuse for theft. Likewise, there are limits to freedom of expression. The freedom to swing one's arm ends where another's nose begins, says the adage. And hiding behind an avatar and a pseudonym is not going to protect you when cross the line. Your right to privacy is not more important than another's protection under the law.