Raytheon triumphs over Yahoo posters' anonymity

Company drops its lawsuit -- once it gets the names it seeks.


Kaitlin Quistgaard
May 24, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Raytheon on Thursday dropped its lawsuit against the 21 "John Does" it had
accused of revealing company secrets on a Yahoo message board. The defense
contractor had filed the suit in March, seeking $25,000 in damages,
stemming from anonymous postings about Raytheon financial results and
contracts that the company claimed had hurt its reputation.

Once the suit was filed, Raytheon requested and received a court order to
subpoena Yahoo and several Internet service providers for information that
could identify the 21 unnamed defendants. Yahoo and the other companies complied -- and though it
took some time, Raytheon has now traced the identities of all 21 who posted
the alleged company secrets. "Four employees have voluntarily left the
company ... and we've counseled many of the individuals involved about not
sharing private company information," says Raytheon spokesman David Polk.

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With its problem solved, Raytheon filed papers to dismiss the suit. "Our
internal investigation has come to a conclusion, so it's time to bring this
to a close," says Polk.

But what about those people whose identities were revealed in the process?
Although, no court has reached any decision, their
names were turned over to Raytheon -- causing some to leave their jobs.

Cyberlaw experts like the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Shari Steele and
the Electronic Privacy Information Center's David Sobel say that a
poster's legal right to identity protection is ill-defined, at best. Many
companies have filed similar lawsuits against "John Does" who have
allegedly misbehaved online, only to withdraw them, as Raytheon now has,
once the court has issued a subpoena and an ISP has revealed an anonymous
poster's identity. In fact, it's a relatively easy legal maneuver.

Raytheon maintains that "this has never been about chilling anyone's right
to privacy and free speech," says Polk. "But there's a very clear line
between speaking about the events of the day and revealing private company
information." The line is not nearly so clear about protecting online
anonymity.


Kaitlin Quistgaard

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Salon's former technology editor, writes frequently about the arts and South America, where she once lived.

MORE FROM Kaitlin Quistgaard

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