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Joe Mariani

Where Is The ACLU When It's Actually Needed?
Aug 25, 2003

Last week, an anonymous computer user (known as "Jane Doe", of course) filed a lawsuit against the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) to protect her privacy. The RIAA is demanding in a subpoena that her internet service provider (ISP) turn over to them her name, address and personal computer usage information because they believe she has downloaded music over the Internet and want to sue her for copyright infringement. The RIAA is pursuing a new campaign of attacking individuals they suspect of downloading music through services such as KaZaA , Grokster, BearShare, and Morpheus. While busily fighting for the rights of drug dealers, pedophiles, sex criminals and terrorists, the ACLU is ignoring the efforts of a much more intrusive and invasive enemy trying to get access to our most personal data virtually unopposed until this Jane Doe case. Does the ACLU even have an interest in protecting the privacy of ordinary Americans? It seems they have no use for you unless you are a minority (racial or sexual, take your pick), a criminal or a terrorist. (If you're a gay minority terrorist with a checkered past, I think the ACLU might put a lawyer on retainer just for you.)

On April 25, 2003, the US District Court of California rendered a judgment that file-sharing services are not liable for the misuse of those services to share copyrighted software. In the case of MGM et. al. v. Grokster et. al., the Court decided that non- centralised networks have no reasonable amount of control over direct peer-to-peer file sharing, stating that "there is no admissible evidence before the Court indicating that Defendants have the ability to supervise and control the infringing conduct (all of which occurs after the product has passed to end-users)." They partially based their decision on the 1984 case in which Universal Studios sued Sony for selling devices (VCRs) which Universal claimed contributed to copyright infringement, and lost. Since the difference between taping a TV show and downloading MP3s is that the latter leaves a record of the computer used to connect to the service, the RIAA decided to attack the individuals directly because they could find out who they are. In order to serve their subpoenas, they need more information than the username "MP3Master" with which to fill in the blanks. Before this decision was made, however, the RIAA began demanding that ISPs reveal personal information about their subscribers and their use of the Internet so they can be sued.

The day before peer-to-peer networks were cleared of responsibility for copyright infringement, Verizon lost their appeal in federal court to avoid turning over the names of two customers who the RIAA claimed downloaded hundreds of songs. The RIAA was already going after individuals. On 21 January 2003, Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia handed down the decision that if a corporation simply ACCUSES someone of copyright infringement their personal privacy is, for all intents and purposes, revoked. Their names must be revealed, as well as the intimate details of their use of the Internet and even the Web, to any corporate entity that merely accuses them of committing a crime. On April 24th, he reaffirmed that decision, declaring that this action does not violate the Constitution. Where is the American Civil Liberties Union?

According the ACLU's Legislative Page, the "hot topics" they are fighting are the USA PATRIOT Acts, a Flag Burning amendment (because respecting the symbol of this country would violate Liberal sensibilities), a proposed Victim's Rights amendment, and "Government-Funded Religion". The ACLU apparently interprets the words "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" in the First Amendment to the Constitution to mean "every member of government shall pretend that no religion exists, unless it be a non-Christian cult of negligible membership, in which case its honchos shall be lionised and the cult promoted above established religions, whose members are obviously repressing it." I'm not religious myself, and that's my choice to make, as guaranteed and protected by the First Amendment. That's all it means, people. Their "news" section informs us that the ACLU is fighting legislation that would give financial breaks to married couples, stating that this invades their privacy and promotes spousal abuse. (We all know that Liberals don't consider people responsible for their own actions... personal responsibility seems to be a strictly Conservative idea.) As regards the PATRIOT Acts, the ACLU is busily attacking the government for using the same tools available to drug investigations to investigate suspected terrorists. (On a side note, I disagree with the power to look up library records of suspects, on the grounds that it's a foolish waste of time -- no terrorist would check "useful" books out of a library any more than a criminal would apply for a gun license. It can only be done by a special search warrant as part of an already-established investigation, so it doesn't totally destroy the very fabric of the Constitution, as most Liberals claim.)

Nowhere does the ACLU mention the rights of people to prevent the personal details of web sites they visit in the privacy of their own homes from being surrendered on demand to any corporation which simply alleges that they may have committed a crime. Perhaps the ACLU should be paying more attention to a corporate conspiracy to invade the privacy of American citizens than to the government's use of long-established law enforcement tools to protect them from terrorism. Perhaps the RIAA simply pays them off better than Uncle Sam does.

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