A Requiem For Anonymity

A recent article on The Nation entitled Buyer Beware takes a look at cooperation between online service providers and law enforcement agencies. New laws make it easy for service providers to hand over information that, previously, would have required a court order. Others make cooperation without a court order a requirement.

The article in The Nation focuses on eBay, whose "director of law enforcement and compliance," Joseph Sullivan, is quoted as saying "when someone uses [eBay's] site and clicks on the 'I agree' button, it is as if he agrees to let us submit all of his data to the legal authorities...." Of course, that's probably not what the eBay user meant by "I Agree," even if they read the 4,000 word eBay Privacy Policy.

What makes people particularly uneasy about eBay is their recent acquisition of PayPal, an online payment service with tens of millions of customers. To become a PayPal customer, you have to give them access to your bank account. eBay has volunteered PayPal information to any law enforcement agency. However, to get the details of specific transactions, the agency has to provide a court order.

All in all, the article is worth a read, if for no other reason than as an insight into the current legal climate and the laws governing service providers and law enforcement agencies. However, until we have a clear, highly publicized case of abuse, it is doubtful many people will look up, especially when there are good deals to be had on beanie babies.

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