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[FYI] Anonymity of e-mail, Web postings easily stripped


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                   05/10/99- Updated 01:09 AM ET

                   Anonymity of e-mail, Web postings easily

                   By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY 

                   As soon as word of the deadly shootings at
                   Columbine High School in Colorado got to
                   Investigator Ron Horac of the Loudoun County
                   Sheriff's office in Leesburg, Va., he knew it was
                   going to be a bad week.

                   Horac's full-time job for the past year has been to
                   serve search warrants to America Online, which is
                   based in Loudoun County.

                   In the Columbine case, FBI agents went directly to
                   the company within hours, seeking material Eric
                   Harris was believed to have posted or stored on
                   AOL's service about music, video games and

                   But Horac knew a deluge of legal requests was
                   coming. He generally handles about 20 warrants a
                   month, a number that's been steadily rising over
                   the past few years. After the Columbine attack,
                   things went right through the roof, and the pace

                   "Just about every high school in the country had
                   some form of copycat. We were getting a lot of
                   emergency requests," he says.

                   Each of those requests came in the form of a search
                   warrant, issued by a judge, that requires AOL to
                   turn over any and all information about a user who
                   has allegedly done something illegal, usually using
                   AOL as a conduit to the Internet. 

                   And it doesn't just affect AOL and its 17 million
                   users. Internet service providers and message
                   boards around the world are increasingly the focus
                   of legal action.

                   Post something illegal, defamatory or harassing and
                   expect a knock at the door, says Lt. Stephen Ronco
                   of the San Jose, Calif., police high tech crime

                   "If they think they're hiding behind the screen and
                   that we won't find them, they're wrong. We will,"
                   says Ronco.


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