To the OPRAmachine user community:
As a part of OPRAmachine’s commitment to protecting the privacy of users of our platform, we are writing to notify you that we have received a subpoena seeking to compel us to disclose the personal information of an allegedly pseudonymous OPRAmachine user that requested tax records about properties owned by public officials in the Borough of Ridgefield (Bergen County) earlier this year. This is the first instance where we have received such a demand. A motion to quash the subpoena was filed in court, but was unfortunately denied by Judge Robert Wilson, J.S.C. on Friday, September 24th. We are deeply disappointed in the court’s decision and are evaluating it to determine the next steps.
We wanted to notify the OPRAmachine user community of this issue because of its novel nature, and likelihood to create a chilling effect among our user base if the Plaintiff is allowed to demand the private information of an anonymous OPRAmachine user.
Please note that while it is our policy not to release this information or cooperate with any attorneys or investigations absent valid legal process, it does not mean that attorneys or politically exposed individuals will not try and retaliate against anonymous users of OPRAmachine by demanding the user’s IP address, email address & other personal data through the legal discovery process. As a New Jersey-based organization, OPRAmachine will comply with valid legal process, but vehemently opposes any abuse of the discovery process to target anonymous OPRA requestors & will publicize such demands when not legally prohibited from doing so.
We aim to forward legal demands we receive regarding an OPRA request to the affected user prior to disclosing any information so that they may have an opportunity to respond & seek their own legal counsel to contest the validity of the subpoena if they so choose. We have done so in this case.
Subpoena Seeks to Unmask Identity of Pseudonymous OPRAmachine User Who Requested Tax Records
The subpoena was issued by the plaintiff’s attorney in the case Joseph Silvestri v. Borough of Ridgefield in Bergen County Superior Court, docket no BER-L-000848-19. The case was filed in 2019 and makes a number of allegations against the Borough arising out of Mr. Silvestri’s past employment with the Borough. Interestingly enough, Silvestri’s wife, Linda M. Silvestri, is the Borough Clerk of the Borough of Ridgefield and custodian of records for OPRA requests. In documents filed in court contesting the subpoena, Mrs. Silvestri has been accused of attempting to “piggyback” on her husband’s lawsuit by using the discovery process to unmask the identity of the anonymous OPRAmachine user - likely so that they can be dragged into the litigation. The OPRA requests were filed during the summer of 2021 and sought, among other things, property tax records.
Anonymous Users Are Encouraged to Review Their Risk Factors & Privacy Protections
While OPRAmachine has been designed not to record certain types of information in anticipation of issues like this, it is important to review your current risk factors if you are an anonymous user concerned about the possibility of being subpoenaed. If you use a pseudonymous or anonymous account on OPRAmachine, we encourage you to review your privacy protections and take appropriate steps to address your risk factors.
If you’d like to keep your identity protected from these types of demands, we’d encourage you to do the following:
- Use a disposable email address, such as those from Mailinator or use an email address from a service not based in the USA, such as ProtonMail when signing up for OPRAmachine. Do not use the same email address you use for your personal activities. Email addresses from providers like Gmail can also be subjected to subpoenas and potentially expose your identity.
- Use a VPN or Tor to connect to the OPRAmachine website when sending your request to ensure that your home IP address is not logged.
- Do not use the same name as you do in real life on your pseudonymous or anonymous OPRAmachine account.