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The Ashley Madison website. Photograph by Carl Court—Getty Images

Ashley Madison Victim Must Identify Himself, Judge Rules

Dec 15, 2015

After a massive hacking incident at Ashley Madison this summer, a parade of anonymous "John Doe" victims filed lawsuits against the online adultery site for failing to safeguard their data. Now at least one of those John Does will have to identify himself if he wants to go on with his lawsuit.

In a Monday order, a federal judge in Arkansas rejected the request of the plaintiff, who is now identified only as "an adult male domiciled in Benton, Saline County" to remain anonymous. The judge gave the man until next week to add his name. If he doesn't, Ashley Madison will be able to dismiss the lawsuit.

"Requiring (him) to proceed without anonymity does not, as Plaintiff claims, expose his “sexual habits (to) public scrutiny,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. "Rather, it simply reveals that at one time he was a member of a website that catered to individuals who wanted to have 'discreet relationships.'"

Except for a handful of exceptions for privacy, people who file lawsuits in federal court must list their name. In this case, the judge ruled the Arkansas man did not qualify for one of the exceptions, which asks if the plaintiff will "be required to disclose information of the utmost intimacy?"

This week's ruling comes as the latest twist in one of the biggest data breaches of 2015, which saw hackers break into Ashley Madison's servers and then post details, including email addresses, for 32 million accounts. There have since been reports of extortion and at least one suicide in the wake of the breach.

The Arkansas lawsuit is one of about a dozen class-action cases filed after the hack. The suits accuse Ashley Madison and its parent company, Avid Life Media, of negligence, breaching privacy laws, and failing to honor a "paid delete" service that let users pay extra to ensure they could make their accounts disappear forever.

So far it appears the Arkansas case is the only in which a judge has ruled a "John Doe" must identify himself. While other anonymous cases are pending in other states, Ashley Madison members identify themselves in a few of them. One of these is in California federal court, where a woman, Szilvia Berki, and a man, Chris Hrivnak, are seeking to represent other victims of the breach. Hrivnak says in the complaint he has been subject to extortion attempts since the breach.

You can find a copy of the Arkansas order below.

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Ashley Madison Order via Law360

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