Sunday, December 24, 2000

Internet increasingly less anonymous

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cyber-chat rooms essentially amount to telephone party lines in cyberspace. Think of a chat room as an online town hall, where millions of messages are posted daily by millions of Internet users.

        The posters use invented names as they anonymously follow, comment on and predict the movement of their favorite stocks, among other things.

        Chat rooms got a big boost in 1996, when the federal Communications Decency Act brought immunity to chat-room providers from any defamatory or slanderous messages on their networks.

        But online messages still can have significant legal implications. In this month alone:

        • Online messages were used in federal court by Delta Air Lines, based in Atlanta, in an unsuccessful effort to seek a restraining order to force pilots and members of the Airline Pilots Association to accept overtime.

        The 9,800-member union operated a password-protected online bulletin board where pilots traded messages about why they should not be forced to fly while being paid overtime.

        • Dr. Sam D. Graham Jr., former chairman of the urology department at Emory University School of Medicine, was awarded $675,000 against Dr. Jonathan R. Oppenheimer.

        Dr. Oppenheimer had anonymously claimed on an Internet bulletin board that Dr. Graham had taken kickbacks after giving pathology business to a private company.

        • Two Internet users successfully challenged the efforts of Dendrite International in New Jersey to unmask their identities because the company failed to “demonstrate that it was harmed by any of the posted messages.”

        However, a Florida appeals court took another approach in November and rejected requests from anonymous online posters to protect their identities.

        In that case, a former chief executive of Hvide Marine Inc. had claimed that the online criticism led to his dismissal.

Are anonymous opinions protected by 1st Amendment?
- Internet increasingly less anonymous

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