Legal loopholes may prevent internet chat room users from remaining anonymous, privacy advocates in the US warn.
Five privacy groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union, launched a new web site and mailed letters to ISPs this week in an effort to protect chat room participants from having their identities revealed without being notified.
The privacy issue arises when information from chat rooms is subpoenaed, the privacy advocates say, explaining that many small ISPs comply with these information requests, often handing over a person's identities without notifying the users, and without giving the chat room a chance to protect itself in court.
The problem is compounded by the fact that these subpoenas aren't always justified, the privacy groups say. They claim that corporations and individuals are able to curb online speech simply by issuing subpoenas against anyone they want to identify or just scare off--a process critics call "cyberSLAPP" litigation. (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.)
While privacy groups applauded efforts by some of the largest internet services--including Yahoo, EarthLink, America Online and Microsoft Corp. to create notification policies, nevertheless most of these companies have yet to put the promises in writing.