Thursday, May 25, 2006

Online Anonymity - Ryanair Edition (continued)

Ryanair are back in the High Court seeking to identify pilots who have anonymously criticised them online. According to the Belfast Telegraph:
Ryanair went to court yesterday to find out who is behind messages on its pilots website. The airline wants to know the identity of those people who go under the codenames 'ihateryanair', 'cantfly-wontfly' and others on the Ryanair European Pilots Association (REPA) website. The REPA website was set up two years ago to give "an anonymous and secure way for Ryanair pilots throughout Europe to communicate with each other". According to the website, it "allows Ryanair pilots to freely express their views on a range of industrial safety and professional issues". The membership is exclusive to Ryanair pilots, including those on contract and trainees.

In the action, which opened yesterday in the High Court, Ryanair is seeking a number of orders against Neil Johnston, an official with the trade union IMPACT; the Irish Airline Pilots Association and its British counterpart, BALPA. The airline contends it has a duty to identify the persons behind the codenames. It claims the website was established by and is controlled by IALPA and BALPA. This is denied by both pilots' associations. Ryanair is also seeking an order requiring the defendants to disclose all information within their knowledge relating to threats, intimidations and harassment of Ryanair pilots. The airline claims the defendants have refused Ryanair's requests to identify the persons behind the codenames and alleges they have sought to destroy records, registration details, databases and information relating to REPA members. Ryanair claims that unknown persons, allegedly known to the defendants, are engaged in a concerted process of intimidation, bullying, harassment and criminal activity. In an affidavit, Eddie Wilson, director of personnel with Ryanair, said that REPA, which was not a registered trade union, was set up in 2004 and its web site was designed to allow Ryanair pilots communicate with one another in a manner designed to obscure the identity of the person communicating through the use of codenames and password procedures. The defendants deny the claims and say REPA was established to facilitate the organisation of pilots employed by Ryanair in order to protect those pilots and their employment within the industry. The case continues today.
I've blogged about this case before. The defendants have already accused Ryanair of seeking to intimidate pilots from engaging in legitimate debate. It will be very interesting to see whether the High Court gives adequate weight to the freedom of expression issues at stake.

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