[ISN] Raytheon suit raises Internet privacy questions

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Fri Mar 05 1999 - 11:23:20 PST

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    Forwarded From: William Knowles <erehwonat_private>
    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) [3.4.99] - A lawsuit brought by defense contractor
    Raytheon Corp. is raising questions about the wisdom of chatting about
    one's employer on-line.
    The corporation is suing 21 people for allegedly disclosing company
    secrets via the Internet.  Raytheon officials believe the on-line chatters
    work for the company, and have asked Yahoo Inc. to identify the real names
    behind the electronic handles. 
    Yahoo runs the offending chat group, but isn't eager to unmask its
    A spokeswoman for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Yahoo, said the company will
    comply with a subpoena if one is issued, but otherwise won't disclose a
    user's identification. 
    ``We have very, very strict privacy policies,'' spokeswoman Diane Hunt
    said. ``We're careful not to just give out user information.''
    The case, first reported on by the Boston Herald, underscores a difficulty
    with Internet chat groups, which encourage the kinds of conversations that
    might otherwise take place after work in a bar...
    The electronic message boards create an illusion of privacy that can
    embolden people to broadcast their thoughts all over the world. That's
    exactly what Raytheon wants to keep its employees from doing - at least
    when it comes to information about the company.
    ``We are committed to and take seriously our responsibility to protect
    proprietary information,'' said Raytheon spokeswoman Toni Simonetti on
    Thursday. ``We'll take legal action necessary to that.''
    In this case, on-line messages were allegedly posted by workers who
    assumed such screen names as RSCDeepthroat, SadNTexas and snowbaw198.
    The messages revealed what Raytheon - a $19.5 billion company with 100,000
    employees - claims are company secrets, mostly about manpower projections
    and financial issues.
    In the complaint filed in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge last
    month, Raytheon's lawyers claimed the workers violated their employment
    agreements by disclosing confidential information.
    But much of the information revealed was either speculative, inaccurate or
    already public. 
    Raytheon cited one chatter who merely conjectured about the company's
    stock price. ``Our stock is in for a further slide to about 35!!,'' wrote
    snowbaw198 in September, noting he'd recently sold his stock for $57 a
    Rayman-mass was cited for writing on Oct. 21 that the company sold one of
    its units to DRS Technologies for $45 million. Raytheon had already made
    the deal public that day.
    And h1234567 posted a message in April saying ``Raytheon win
    Missle-defense contract. Good news will be announce tomorrow.'' A
    competitor actually won the deal.
    Raytheon is asking for an injunction to prevent the chatters from
    disclosing anything else, plus the company wants compensatory damages,
    attorney fees and expenses.
    ``It seems kind of disturbing that a company would check up on employees
    this way,'' said Scott Charnas, an attorney for a firm specializing in
    labor law.
    Charnas, who is not involved in the case, said he didn't know of any
    statute preventing Yahoo from disclosing the names of its chat group
    ``There may be an expectation of privacy when people sign on with these
    screen names, but that's probably a false expectation.''
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