MIAMI, May 26 (UPI) -- An anonymous computer user whose identity
was ordered revealed by a Miami judge is trying to decide Friday
whether to appeal the decision.
The message writer was accused of using Yahoo! and America Online
chat rooms to unjustly accuse the former owner of a bankrupt marine
supply company of criminal behavior.
Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Eleanor Schockett ordered the firms
to reveal the message writer's name, but sealed the order for 20
days to give him time to appeal. His attorney said the decision
on whether to appeal has not yet been made.
Court observers said it could be the first court order questioning
whether participants in chat rooms and other internet communication
has a constitutional right to remain anonymous.
"Give them anonymity and nothing holds them back. That's why
the Ku Klux Klan wears hoods," she said.
Christopher K. Leigh, the attorney for the unidentified defendant,
said, anonymity "encourages candor and frank discussion where
it wouldn't normally occur."
Howard Simon of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union cautioned
the ruling Thursday would affect millions of chat room users and
could "threaten free speech on the Internet."
Yahoo! attorney Clifford K. Wolff said the firm would not take
a position on the issue.
J. Erik Hvide, former head of Hvide Marine, filed the suit seeking
the identity of the writer.
He said the writer used such on-line monikers as "justthefactsjack"
to call Hvide a criminal in chat rooms on AOL and Yahoo! His attorney,
Bruce D. Fischman, said Hvide couldn't sue someone he couldn't find.
Hvide stepped down as head of the global marine supply business
that does $50 billion in revenues a year in June 1999. The company
filed for bankruptcy two months later but continues to do business.