Court rules against AOL on Net privacy

Tuesday, 5 November 2002, 1:10 PM EST

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled against America Online in its efforts to protect the identity of one of its 35 million subscribers by asking the court to quash a subpoena calling for the member's name, in an issue that goes to the heart of the anonymity of the Internet.

The ruling against the world's largest Internet service provider, based in Dulles, Virginia, was the latest in the evolution of privacy laws as they pertain to the Internet and identities of Web surfers, privacy experts said.

"The law is very unsettled and still being written. Any decision by the highest court of any state -- particularly the one where AOL resides -- is significant,'' said David Sobel, general counsel at Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The Virginia Supreme Court sided with a lower California court's ruling that supported Nam Tai Electronics request to subpoena the identity of an AOL user as part of a complaint that alleged libel, trade libel and violations of California's unfair business practice statutes.

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