UK Law Firm Sets Up Special Team To Hunt Down Anonymous Commenters

from the free-speech-is-for-suckers dept

Stephanie Migot writes in to let us know how UK law firm Wragge & Co has decided to set up a special "cyber tracing" team, whose job it will be to scour the internet for anyone making negative anonymous comments about any of their clients and then take action. Of course, the law firm says it's really looking for people leaking confidential information (such as disgruntled employees), but, as you probably know, defamation laws in the UK are significantly more draconian than those elsewhere. Thus, the line is a lot more blurry, and will almost certainly lead to these sorts of activities targeting mere criticism and complaints, rather than true defamation. The unfortunate end result is a series of chilling effects on any concept of free speech.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Jeff, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 3:15am

    Eh? Well then.

    All of their cilents are a bunch of Wankers.

    There, I did it.

     

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  2.  
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    drewmerc (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 3:35am

    our defamation laws are more draconian but would most people leaking confidential information come under the whistle blowers exemptions (depending on what info is released)

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Sheinen, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 3:38am

    Not the clients, the management. But they are a bunch of lawyers so it's about as surprising as a polo having a hole - a shock to a stranger, but if you've seen one you knew it was coming.

    I fucking hate this country. I didn't choose to be born in to it, but I have to put up with Cameras EVERYWHERE, Police who do F.A. for fear of reprimand, a PM whose a talentless gimp and signs away the whole countries legal system without even asking us and now this! It's shit!

    Oh, I almost forgot - Fuck you Mandelson! No-one likes you! You were fired 3 times from government! Who the fuck keeps letting that douche back in?!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    name, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 3:39am

    subject

    No, the only chilling effect would be on dishonest or libelous free speech. If you are expressing an opinion you can back up, you won't have an issue. If you are calling someone a wanker without the proof to support it, then you are on the hook.

    Free speech isn't an absolute.

     

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  5.  
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    NullOp, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 3:53am

    Why?

    And that, folks, is why we left "Jolly Old England" in the first place!

     

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  6.  
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    Sheinen, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 3:55am

    Re: subject

    Do you have any evidence to back that up?

     

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  7.  
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    Pete Austin, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 4:02am

    Insults != Libel

    @name. You don't need proof to insult someone gratutiously, only if your comment might be understood factually. So I can call these lawyers "pond scum", as it's clear I don't mean that factually, but I can't call them "money-grubbers", because that suggests people who would put their greed ahead of the public interest. See how it works, dick-head?

     

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  8.  
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    Johnny Lilburne, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 4:12am

    Re: subject

    If their clients are the type that require legal thugs then by definition they are wankers.

     

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  9.  
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    William, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 4:17am

    Re: Insults != Libel

    @Pete, I hate to break it to you but he is right.

    We left because of a GOVERNMENT that didnt respect us, not the people. Imagine how many friends those people more than likely left behind?

    The Lawyers Are Pond Scum, as are their clients.. However It's the Government that allows them to go along with this, what do you think they are going to do tar and feather them publicly? maybe be drawn and quartered? No there going to receive a government sanctioned defamation summons and law suit.

    Really Before you Flame him, even thought he did sound like a troll in the way he expressed it, at least think of the general meaning behind what he said.

     

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  10.  
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    Charles Frith, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 4:19am

    Anonymous commenting

    Of course they want confidential leakers? Of course not could be just as applicable. Ambulance chasing sounds plausible.

     

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  11.  
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    Stephanie Migot, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 4:43am

    Reputation Management?

    I wasn't actually sure if Techdirt would follow this up, so thanks!

    I think that what the clients of Wragge & Co are trying to do is a cack-handed form of limiting bad PR. In the past, complaints about them wouldn't have circulated as quickly or as widely, whereas today they can be pinged back and forth online in an instant.

    Businesses are running scared, but rather than engaging directly, and maybe improving their level of customer service, they're sending out the legal attack dogs instead.

    I don't buy the "confidential information" fudge for an instant. It's a respectable excuse for boorish behaviour.

     

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  12.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 4:51am

    laws on the intarwebs

    But do England's laws apply on the internet? Can I, as a Dutch person, be held accountable to laws that apply only in the UK?

    Or am I allowed to anonymously insult their clients?

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Stephanie Migot, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 5:36am

    Re: laws on the intarwebs

    Under UK law, if you make a statement that somebody considers libellous on the internet, and they can prove that somebody in the UK read your statement, it is considered "published" and they can take you to court.

    Anyone, anywhere can sue in the UK courts for libel if they convince a judge that statements against them would have been seen by somebody in the UK. British courts are the libel capital of the world. The situation is completely ridiculous.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Stephanie Migot, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 5:36am

    Re: laws on the intarwebs

    Under UK law, if you make a statement that somebody considers libellous on the internet, and they can prove that somebody in the UK read your statement, it is considered "published" and they can take you to court.

    Anyone, anywhere can sue in the UK courts for libel if they convince a judge that statements against them would have been seen by somebody in the UK. British courts are the libel capital of the world. The situation is completely ridiculous.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 5:36am

    Re: subject

    No, the only chilling effect would be on dishonest or libelous free speech. If you are expressing an opinion you can back up, you won't have an issue. If you are calling someone a wanker without the proof to support it, then you are on the hook. Free speech isn't an absolute.

    I bet that doesn't apply to everyone, does it? Like gov't officials? What happens to the PC or prosecutor who accuses someone of a crime and then can't prove it? On a larger scale, I seem to remember those in the British gov't accusing the Iraqis of having certain weapons of mass destruction. Couldn't prove that one either, could they?

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 5:44am

    Re: Insults != Libel

    So I can call these lawyers "pond scum", as it's clear I don't mean that factually, but I can't call them "money-grubbers", because that suggests people who would put their greed ahead of the public interest.

    Suggests? "Pond scum" suggests the same thing as "money grubbers" to me. See how it works, dick-head?

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    The Rest of the World, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 5:52am

    Re: Re: laws on the intarwebs

    Dear UK,

    Good Luck with that

     

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  18.  
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    Overcast (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 6:03am

    Why is everyone so bent outta shape on anonymous comments? lol

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    NotMyName, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 6:09am

    Re:

    Its a sign of megalomania

     

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  20.  
    icon
    Free Capitalist (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 6:23am

    Wragge & Co are Wanking Pond Scum and I have Photos to Prove it

    Free speech isn't an absolute.


    And neither is the willingness of a population to be governed under any specific set of laws or "civil" precedents an absolute.

    Unabashedly marketing a service such as this speaks very poorly to the state of things today.

    Corporations are not individuals with feelings. The over-entitled, puerile wankers running this disgusting program would do well to "drop it" when it comes to vitriolic comments without criminal content or intent.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Dear UK..., Nov 5th, 2009 @ 6:23am

    Repeat after me: "Sticks and stones...."

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 6:34am

    Re: Re: subject

    Civil cases work on balance of probabilities (ie >50% chance).
    Given published survey data on "personal habits" you are therefore quite safe in levelling that particular accusation against just about anybody.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 6:40am

    Re: subject

    u wanker

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Pete Austin, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 7:08am

    Re: Re: Insults != Libel

    @William: Sorry, I'm reasonably correct about UK Law. General insults such as "wanker" or "pond scum" aren't libel. Search for "slander vulgar abuse" (without the quotes)
    http://www.google.co.uk/#hl=en&q=slander+vulgar+abuse+uk&meta=&aq=f&oq=& ;fp=9cff3232a59d5ab3

    For example, here's a relevant quote by Mr Justice Eady, discussing Internet comments
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/sep/08/wallstreetjournal.pressandpublishing

    'Eady ordered a stay on a number of libel actions brought by the chairman, and said many comments would have a defence in slander as "mere vulgar abuse".'

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Poster, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 7:18am

    Re:

    Because one of the fundamental principles of the Internet is its ability to allow you to comment without revealing your identity. For instance, I post here on Techdirt anonymously, and I trust Techdirt not to hand out what few details they have about my identity to someone without a very good reason.

    If anonymous commenting was disabled and I was required to give out your real name in order to comment, I wouldn't be nearly as apt to comment on stories such as this out of the fear that the law firm in question could track me down and sue me for saying that they're a bunch of jackasses who should be considered true enemies of freedom of speech and expression.

    In other words, knowing I can't comment anonymously leads me to avoid commenting altogether out of fear of legal action; hence, a chilling effect on my ability to speak my mind freely.

    You think anonymous commenting and information spreading isn't important? Try saying that to Wikileaks.

     

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  26.  
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    James (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 7:31am

    Hmmm

    even our constitution does not declare FREE and ANONYMOUS speech.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Poster, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 7:36am

    Re: Hmmm

    While this is true, it does not explicitly outlaw it, either.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    SEO Company Pakistan, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 7:40am

    Useless Task Team

    It seems to be quite useless. They must hunt for someone others, involved in serious crimes. Anonymous commenting does not seems a social or legal crime. what do you think?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    Avatar28 (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 7:46am

    Re: Re: laws on the intarwebs

    So, again, what would happen if someone in the States or the Netherlands says something that someone in the UK considers libelous? If both that person and the website are not in the UK, what would be the outcome?

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Poster, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 7:49am

    Re: Useless Task Team

    If an anonymous comment is considered even remotely libelous/slanderous, someone in the UK can sue them for it.

    This is because Britain hates free speech and doesn't want anyone to have it if they can't.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    TheStupidOne, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 8:46am

    Re:

    If the leak concerns illegal activity then whistle blower protection applies. If an anonymous commenter reveals the top secret coke recipe, or unreleased product specifications, or any kind of trade secret then go get em!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Beta, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 9:26am

    Opportunity!

    This could be a wonderful way to test anonymizing ("anonymising"?) services. I have a friend post through a remailer or web proxy or something, saying that I'm a corrupt, adulterous, client-defrauding cross-dressing gay cannibal, then I hire Wragge & Co to find the source. If they fail, then the channel must be reasonably secure. (Then I publish the results and put the cyber-tracing team out of business.)

    DISCLAIMER: 'WE WOULD LIKE TO APOLOGIZE FOR THE WAY IN WHICH POLITICIANS ARE REPRESENTED IN THIS PROGRAMME. IT WAS NEVER OUR INTENTION TO IMPLY THAT POLITICIANS ARE WEAK-KNEED, POLITICAL TIME-SERVERS WHO ARE CONCERNED MORE WITH THEIR PERSONAL VENDETTAS AND PRIVATE POWER STRUGGLES THAN THE PROBLEMS OF GOVERNMENT, NOR TO SUGGEST AT ANY POINT THAT THEY SACRIFICE THEIR CREDIBILITY BY DENYING FREE DEBATE ON VITAL MATTERS IN THE MISTAKEN IMPRESSION THAT PARTY UNITY COMES BEFORE THE WELL-BEING OF THE PEOPLE THEY SUPPOSEDLY REPRESENT NOR TO IMPLY AT ANY STAGE THAT THEY ARE SQUABBLING LITTLE TOADIES WITHOUT AN OUNCE OF CONCERN FOR THE VITAL SOCIAL PROBLEMS OF TODAY. NOR INDEED DO WE INTEND THAT VIEWERS SHOULD CONSIDER THEM AS CRABBY ULCEROUS LITTLE SELF-SEEKING VERMIN WITH FURRY LEGS AND AN EXCESSIVE ADDICTION TO ALCOHOL AND CERTAIN EXPLICIT SEXUAL PRACTICES WHICH SOME PEOPLE MIGHT FIND OFFENSIVE.
    WE ARE SORRY IF THIS IMPRESSION HAS COME ACROSS.'
    (With meta-apologies to Monty Python)

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    1DandyTroll, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 10:18am

    Re: laws on the intarwebs

    Not at the moment, but with the ratification of the lisbon treaty, you might. It will come down to the interpretation of the new harmonized set of laws, it wouldn't be criminal charges since the rules governing that is pretty straight forward and limited to serious crime, but the civil side is, as usual, rather murky.

    Personally I think that the EU government wont accept pesky cross border civil suits. And I think that the government of England will try hard to keep things on the up and up, at least for some years to come. They was caught red handed bugging the european parliament after all.

    But in a few years, it's anyones guess.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Kevin Carson, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 11:30am

    A law is only as "draconian" as it is enforceable. As with "three strikes" legislation, this will just hasten the day when everyone uses an anonymizer and tells the government to fuck off.

    The old unidirectional broadcast culture is gone, never to return. And the network culture treats both censorship and police state surveillance as damage, to be routed around.
    Those pigs are only wasting their money and time developing their surveillance software and playing whack-a-mole with disgruntled employees. They're about to learn the utter worthlessness of their police state technologies, and the beautiful power of the words "HELL, NO!"

    To put it simply, they can't shut us up, no matter how bad they want to. The 20th century was the age of large, bureaucratic organizations. By the end of the 21st, there won't be enough of them left to bury.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Steve, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 12:08pm

    Prediction: Actions like this drive people in droves to sites and programs that hide your IP address. Then they start suing THOSE entities for the identity of posters. They really DO believe that the internet can be bullied into submission. I weep for them on the day that the internet on the whole has had enough and decides to hit back. They just don't see it for what it is. It's like the smallest nation on the earth fucking with the only one that has nuclear weapons. Sooner or later your going to piss them off enough to light you up and then maybe they'll see that it's the community that runs the show around here not the other way around.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    The Krauts, Nov 5th, 2009 @ 12:25pm

    Ha! Try to take me to a UK court. Good luck with that you numbnuts! Muwhahahaha....

     

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  37.  
    icon
    DB (profile), Nov 6th, 2009 @ 5:48am

    Assumptions & Legitimacy

    I've only heard about UK libel laws -- as much from the Leon Uris book as anything else. But there also seems to be a tone that anonymous posters should be permitted to say anything they want. As I understand it, libel only applies to statements of fact, and not opinion, and truth is still a defense. If so, anonymous, or identified, posters are free to state opinions -- not facts -- and if facts are posted, then stick to the truth. If the posting is just a rant, I don't see that it accomplishes much.
    For whistleblowers, I don't know enough about UK law. Certainly there have been abuses. Scientologists, for example, filed a bunch of lawsuits when their procedure manual became public. I don't remember how it ended on the copyright issue, but they couldn't claw back the truth.
    And what about nuts? It may be bad PR to file a lot of suits (look at the record industry) but there are certainly some boneheaded rumors out there. Procter & Gamble is satanist because of their logo? Hogwash, promulgated by nuts, but persistent. Urban legends abound and if they cause harm to a reputation, I don't see a huge problem in gathering facts using proper means. As to what they do with the facts, it sounds like everybody's guessing. There may be dozens of reasons to decide to not sue, but until you have the background facts, you don't get to that decision.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2009 @ 9:39am

    India is a powerful country ...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Nov 6th, 2009 @ 11:21am

    Re: Re: laws on the intarwebs

    > and they can prove that somebody in the UK
    > read your statement, it is considered "published"
    > and they can take you to court.

    They can take me to court, they can even get a default judgment when I completely ignore them and don't show up, but good luck collecting on that judgment from me if I'm not in the UK.

    They'd have to apply to an American court to have the judgment enforced and the American court will determine whether such a sanction is valid under American law. If the comment was made by an American citizen, in America, then the 1st Amendment is in full effect and if the libel laws in the UK sanction speech which would be protected in America, then the American court will refuse to enforce the judgment.

    It's the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory.

     

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  40.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Nov 6th, 2009 @ 11:26am

    Re: Hmmm

    > even our constitution does not declare FREE
    > and ANONYMOUS speech.

    No, but the Supreme Court has ruled that the right to speak anonymously is implicit in the concept of free speech and hence is covered by the 1st Amendment.

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    dge, Nov 6th, 2009 @ 4:47pm

    you can do it

    http://www.tradertrade.com
    supply nike shoes airmax TN sport shoes ----supply nike shoes airmax 90 sport shoes
    supply nike shoes airmax 95 sport shoes------supply nike shoes airmax 97 sport shoes
    supply nike shoes airmax 03 sport shoes------supply nike shoes airmax 06 sport shoes
    http://www.tradertrade.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    esees, Nov 8th, 2009 @ 6:28pm

    you can dot it

    www.tradertrade.com
    We can produce various athletic shoes, recreational shoe, stogy, mainly Nike, adidas, timberland, gucci,prada, Luie Vuitton and puma shoes . We can provide Nike Jordan series, Airmax and Shox series.For example: nike air max 95, airmax 97,airmax 2003, shox TL, shox R4,Shox NZ, Air force one(AF1),Dunk, Kobe,James, Jordan I-XX. All the shoes are packed in original boxes with retro cards, and the tags and style code number are 100% correct
    www.tradertrade.com
    yahoo:tradertrade07@yahoo.cn

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Michael, Nov 17th, 2009 @ 10:40am

    Now see, if all the law firms ganged together, they could do what the Chinese are doing:

    http://www.china.org.cn/china/features/content_15959669.htm

    I probably shouldn't give them ideas, should I.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Hard To Do, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 6:22am

    Is it feasible ?

    The concept may find some takers but as things stand this is in my view a technically infeasible service for the most part.

    Tracing these commentators is very hard, even if they operate consistently from one place. It takes a whole team. It needs the assistance of the forum websites, blog operating companies, ISPs, and law enforcement authorities. In some countries (India for example) police are ready to help (formally or informally) but in others (UK,USA) they are not helpful to private parties.

    Assume for the sake of argument that commentators and bloggers could be found and summoned to court; is that the end of the story ? Far from it ! Serious technical problems remain to be solved about internet comments and how they can be fingerprinted and traced reliably.

    A blogger who has blogged his fighting of an Anton Piller search order even claims in his defense that "third party comments" do not pass through his computer: On Blogs and Searching for Evidence.

    As these type of arguments become common, it may be worthwhile for large companies to sign on for some such "insurance cover" .... that is probably why such services are becoming popular, but the efficacy is not yet demonstrated.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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