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Articles - Freiheit der Rede!

My apologies to any of our German readers if I have used an incorrect translation of this articles title - "Freedom of Speech"

Freedom is an interesting word. It conjures up images of a life without labour or worries. Years ago, one of my lecturers stated: "There are two types of freedom, one without responsibility and one with - most of us want the first". And he was quite right. How many times in our lives have we said to another person "I always speak my mind". 

But how many of us take responsibility for what we say?

The reason that issue has been brought to the forefront of my mind again is after hearing some news (from a good source) of an online service being subpoenaed to provide the name of a user who was possibly divulging trade secrets on a discussion board. No names will be mentioned in this article, but it serves as good warning to all of us who like to "speak our mind".

The story, briefly, is this - A user was posting comments about his employer's progress in a particular project. The user did not specify any details of how the product was being developed, but on the general state of it's progress. His employer caught wind of the messages (I don't know how) and then called in the lawyers. The online service (a major player) was then subpoenaed to provide the users name. The OLS is giving the user 15 days to address the issue, or it will provide the information to the courts. This is not the first time the OLS has been under pressure to do so.

Is this "Big Brother" or merely someone being made responsible for his comments? I won't comment on that, but I can envision a point in the not too distant future where legal firms will employ people purely to cruise the net's discussion forums to capture threads where employees are slamming their employers. They would also be targetting employees who divulge what could be classified as "commercial in confidence" information - your first amendment rights, freedom of speech rights, or whatever you call them in your country will not protect you. The law firms would then send the thread to the company in question, and offer their services in tracking the "culprit" down. 

You heard it first on www.tamingthebeast.net ............ 

If this all sounds a bit fanciful and paranoid, consider this.....

A couple of years ago, I was working as a manager in an international restaurant chain. I received a fax marked "confidential" and something along the lines of "to be read by managers only". The fax contained a warning about a rumor circulating the Internet regarding the company methods of obtaining ingredients. A copy of the posting accompanied the fax. It was the most ridiculous and funny rumor I had ever heard; no one could possibly have taken it seriously.......but the company did. They hired an investigative team to track down the source and were more than ready to prosecute to the full extent of the law. The fax also contained strict instructions on how to deal with people who had heard the rumour and questioned it.

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Are you running discussion boards on your Web Site? If so, without having to become too much a censor, it may be wise in your welcome and board rules messages to warn users that if push comes to shove, you may have to divulge their details in accordance with the laws of your country.

So while the internet and our web sites are an excellent way to communicate our thoughts and feelings to the world, remember....

Freedom has it's price...........

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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