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Anonymity on the Web: An Oxymoron?

In this post at May It Please the Court, Craig Williams asks whether you can truly be anonymous online. Williams comments on this New Jersey case involving a lawsuit by a former town council member against, who posted several anonymous and derogatory remarks about a firefighter involved in litigation against the town. The firefighter filed a subpoena against for the identity of the commenter, which the site readily disclosed. The town councilmember sued, claiming that the site violated his privacy rights and failed to comply with proper procedures for disclosing user information in response to a subpoena.

Williams comments that some view this case as a test of whether Internet users will be able to sit behind their monitor and remain anonymous. And he also writes:

The Internet provides a perhaps comfortable feeling that you can sit in front of your computer monitor and no one will ever find out who you are.  Feelings aside, the assumption is far from the truth.  Your particular computer is identified by its own IP (Internet Protocol) address.  Sure, sophisticated users can attempt to spoof IP addresses, but nothing truly works to hide your identity.  Even aside from the technological issues, Internet users have used monikers and other "anonymous" names to hide their identity.  For the most part, those attempts don't work, either.

Is this a matter of caveat emptor, where users ought to remain aware that someone may always discover their identity? Or do Websites and chatrooms and other online fora owe users a duty of confidentiality?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 27, 2007 at 06:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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