Friday, November 12, 2004

Anonymity and the Internet

Internet use is seldom truly anonymous. In most cases, ISPs keep records which will link users with their online activities. Consequently, litigants or potential litigants often approach ISPs looking for disclosure of users' identities. The most high profile examples have been in the music industry's file sharing cases, which are now set to come to Ireland.

May ISPs voluntarily disclose this information? Must they notify their users before doing so? Can litigants obtain a court order compelling an ISP to reveal the identity of a user? On what terms? I discuss the legal issues involved in this article, which originally appeared in the Commercial Law Practitioner.

Since that article was written, there has been a decision on this point in England, where Blackburne J. issued an order compelling disclosure. The full decision isn't yet available - but it appears from the news coverage that he didn't consider giving the alleged file-sharers an opportunity to make submissions before their identity was revealed. This is unfortunate. At a minimum, it ignores earlier English authority suggesting that users should be notified and given a chance to challenge any order.

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