Commentary

Just An Online Minute... Advocates Rally For Web Anonymity

This weekend, The New York Times condemned Yahoo for having revealed the identities of two Chinese dissidents to the authorities, resulting in their jailing.

In the editorial "Yahoo Betrays Free Speech," the Times also approvingly mentions the pending Global Online Freedom Act, which would fine U.S. companies that reveal users' identities to repressive governments abroad.

This Times editorial comes several weeks after a U.S. Congress representative denounced Yahoo executives as moral "pygmies" for giving up the dissenters. And, while Yahoo last month settled a lawsuit brought by the dissidents' families, there's no reason to think these types of occurrences are going to stop soon.

If anything, they're likely to accelerate, as broadband penetration continues to grow and more and more people learn to self-publish on the Web.

But it's not just abroad where Web companies face pressure to turn over the names of critics. Consider, the township of Manalapan, N.J. is currently truing to subpoena Google records to determine the identity of blogger "datruthsquad," who has criticized town officials in his Blogspot posts.

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation last week weighed in on that case, urging the court to quash the subpoena. The organization argues that datruthsquad's identity is irrelevant to the underlying case -- a malpractice lawsuit by the township against an attorney -- and that the town is simply trying to silence a harsh critic. "The township and its attorneys simply do not like what datruthsquad has to say and apparently want him to stop speaking," the EFF charges in its court papers.

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