A Virginia Supreme Court 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 Inc.'s 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.
The electronics company alleged in its complaint, filed in January 2001 in California Superior Court, that 51 unknown individuals, including an AOL subscriber, posted "false, defamatory and otherwise unlawful messages" about the company's stock on an Internet message board.
News source: MSNBC - AOL loses Internet privacy ruling