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Podcast Episode: Chronicling Online Communities

EFFector - Volume 15, Issue 20 - Privacy Groups Demand Protection of Users' Anonymity Online


EFFector - Volume 15, Issue 20 - Privacy Groups Demand Protection of Users' Anonymity Online

EFFector       Vol. 15, No. 20        July 12, 2002

A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation     ISSN 1062-9424

In the 220th Issue of EFFector:

* Privacy Groups Demand Protection of Users' Anonymity Online
* EFF's Schoen Rebuts MPAA Answer Sheet on BPDG
* Court Orders Site to be Less Findable
* Administrivia

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* Privacy Groups Demand Protection of Users' Anonymity Online Urge
Internet Providers Shield Clients From Spurious Suits

Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Release For Immediate Release:
Friday, July 12, 2002

New York - A coalition of civil liberties and privacy groups today
called on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other online companies
to adopt policies protecting their users' right to anonymous speech on
the Internet. That right has come under attack in recent years through
a growing number of "cyberSLAPP" lawsuits, in which companies file
suit just to discover the identity of their online critics - often in
order to silence or intimidate them.

In a cyberSLAPP suit, the target of anonymous online criticism
typically files a lawsuit against a "John Doe" defendant and then
issues an identity-seeking subpoena to an ISP. There is currently no
legal requirement that ISPs notify their customers before complying
with such subpoenas - even though many of the lawsuits are frivolous
and have no chance of prevailing in court. "You can't fight to protect
your privacy and anonymity when you don't even know that it's being
attacked," said Paul Levy of the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

The coalition noted that three major online service providers --
Yahoo, Earthlink and America Online -- already notify their customers
when they receive subpoenas for identifying information, and urged
hundreds of other webmasters and service providers to do the same.

In a letter sent to over 100 ISPs, Internet discussion boards, and
other online companies, the coalition asked each company to include in
its privacy policy a promise that it would notify any customer whose
personal information or identity is subpoenaed. The coalition, which
includes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for
Democracy and Technology (CDT), the Electronic Frontier Foundation
(EFF), the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and Public
Citizen, also included a sample policy with its letter.

The coalition also announced the opening of a new Web site on the
issue,, which includes a broad range of information
about the cyberSLAPP issue, from a list of "Frequently Asked
Questions" for the general public, to legal briefs and other detailed
information about ongoing legal battles.

For full release:

For more about cyberSLAPP and the ongoing legal battles:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website:

Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) website:

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) website:

Public Citizen website:

- end -

* EFF's Schoen Rebuts MPAA Answer Sheet on BPDG

The Motion Picture Association of America recently published a FAQ on
the "Broadcast Flag" proposal. MPAA is seeking legislation which would
require all makers of digital television equipment and software to
follow "Compliance and Robustness Rules" it created in a forum called
the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group.

EFF, which participated in the BPDG, took exception to some of the
MPAA's answers. Finding it misleading, and at times incorrect, we have
rebutted and clarified the MPAA Broadcast Flag FAQ here:

Our response to MPAA:

The original MPAA FAQ document, which is also reproduced in our
rebuttal, is here:

Background information on the BPDG can be found on our BPDG Blog at:

- end -

* Court Censors Tax Site, Restricts Searches Electronic Frontier
Foundation Asks Court to Reconsider

Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Release For Immediate Release:
Friday, July 12, 2002

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today asked a
federal court in Oakland to reconsider its ruling earlier this year
that rewrite its web pages to appear less prominently in
major search engine results for its chief competitor, J.K. Harris & Co.

On March 22, 2002, the court ordered to alter web pages that
criticize J.K. Harris. The court reasoned that these pages violated
trademark law and might divert consumers from J.K. Harris because the
pages appear frequently in search engine results for "J.K. Harris".

The EFF recently filed a "friend of the court" brief asking the court
to reconsider its ruling.

"The court mistakenly applied earlier cases relating to metatag abuse
to a situation where had simply used its competitor's name
in publishing truthful information," explained EFF Senior Intellectual
Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "The court has put trademark law
on a collision course with the First Amendment."

Metatags, which search engines use for indexing, are not visible on
web pages and need not reflect the page's content. On the other hand,'s criticism pages contributed significantly to the site's
content. also filed a brief urging the court to reconsider. The case
is J.K. Harris v. Kassel, No. C 02-0400 CW, and is pending in Oakland,
California, before Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court for
the Northern District in California.

Links: For this release:

EFF's brief can be found at:

Earlier coverage of the case:

- end -

* Administrivia

EFFector is published by:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation 454 Shotwell Street San Francisco CA
94110-1914 USA +1 415 436 9333 (voice) +1 415 436 9993 (fax)

Editor: Ren Bucholz, Activist

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