This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Media Unspun email newsletter and is Copyright 2002 by Keith Dawson.
M E D I A   U N S P U N
SLAPPing Down Anonymous Speech

A coalition of public-interest groups is trying to pressure ISPs into notifying their customers when civil lawsuits seek their identities. A few outlets covered the campaign: Perhaps after the ACLU's big push earlier in the week for open access to cable wires, news outlets are tired of public advocacy stories.

Five groups are behind the initiative: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Public Citizen. The three stories Unspun surveyed mentioned only the better-known organizations, not including Public Citizen, though InternetNews and the Post ran a comment from that group's director: "You can't fight to protect your privacy and anonymity when you don't even know that it's being attacked,"

The coalition, which has mounted an informational Web site at, wants ISPs to side with their customers -- or at least to give them a fighting chance -- when a suit is filed that seeks to reveal the identity of an anonymous online speaker, often simply in order to silence or intimidate that person. (The site's frequently-asked questions page defines SLAPP as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.)

All three outlets mentioned that EarthLink, Yahoo, and America Online have policies in place to notify customers of legal filings seeking information about them. Both CNET and InternetNews add Microsoft to that list, although Microsoft is not currently mentioned on the CyberSLAPP site. The Washington Post went into detail on AOL's policies -- the big national ISP gives its customers 14 days' warning before turning over any such information. In its model policy sent to hundreds of ISPs, recommends a waiting period of 30 days.

Wired reported on a new, hacker-written tool that should make it much harder for anyone, including courts and lawyers, to find out the online identity of someone determined to hide it. The tool, to be previewed at a New York hacker convention today, is named "6/4" after the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre. - Keith Dawson

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