nettime's_roving_reporter on Sat, 13 May 2000 00:23:22 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> De-anonymizing online speech via supoenas. Yahoo! is sued by anonymous

[This is an  press release


A federal lawsuit filed today in California could establish important
protections for Internet privacy and anonymity, according to the Electronic
Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU). The suit, filed against Yahoo! by a user of the service's popular
financial message boards, challenges the company's practice of disclosing a
user's personal information to third parties without prior notice to the

Over the past year, Yahoo! has been inundated with subpoenas issued by
companies seeking the identities of individuals anonymously posting
information critical of the firms and their executives. Without notifying
the targeted users, and without assessing the validity of the legal claims
underlying the subpoenas, Yahoo! systematically discloses identifying
information such as users' names, e-mail addresses and Internet protocol
addresses. Yahoo! is unique among major online companies in its refusal to
notify its users of such subpoenas and provide them with an opportunity to
challenge the information requests.

Privacy and free speech advocates, including EPIC and the ACLU, have
criticized Yahoo!'s policy on the ground that Internet users have a right
to communicate anonymously and usually do so for valid reasons. According
to David L. Sobel, EPIC's General Counsel, "online anonymity plays a
critical role in fostering free expression on the Internet, and has clearly
contributed to the popularity of the medium." He said, "The U.S. Supreme
Court has ruled that anonymity is a constitutional right, but practices
such as those of Yahoo! may make that right illusory online."

Chris Hansen, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who
specializes in Internet speech, said that his organization favors at least
two protections for anonymous chatters. "Any complaint filed in court
against an unknown Internet defendant should include specifics of the
allegedly objectionable postings," he said.

"Also, a judge should not allow a lawyer to issue subpoenas in these cases
without requiring that the Internet service provider notify the potential
defendant that someone is seeking information about him and giving him an
opportunity to enter court to protect his anonymity."

"The right to anonymous speech should not be breached so easily," Hansen
said. The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles
by "Aquacool_2000," a pseudonymous Yahoo! user whose personal information
was disclosed to AnswerThink Consulting Group, Inc., a publicly held

A copy of the lawsuit (in PDF) is available at:

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