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Anonymity on the Internet

This interesting AP story demonstrates how illusory anonymity can be on the Internet:

After what Mayor James West called his “brutal outing” by a newspaper that published transcripts of his conversations from a gay chat room, he complained in an e-mail to the city’s commission on race relations. West asked: “Should we all fear that our private conversations will be splashed publicly and out of context for all in our sphere to see?” . . . .

After receiving a tip the mayor was offering city jobs to young men he met in a chat room, The Spokesman-Review found a way to corroborate the information without having to subpoena records from the chat room’s sponsor.

It hired a computer expert to track the identity of the person behind the screen names “Cobra82,” “RightBiGuy” and “JMSElton” that it suspected was the mayor.

As a result, West is the subject of a recall for alleged misuse of a city-owned computer for offering internships to young men he met in the gay chat room. . . .

Law enforcement routinely uses subpoenas in terrorism, child pornography and other investigations to find the identities of Internet chat room users.

But what was unusual about this case was that someone not currently involved with law enforcement was able to unmask a person who thought they [sic] were operating anonymously.


Originally posted at PrawfsBlawg


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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

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