Cyber Ramblings - Nov 28, 2000

28 November 2000
Compiled by Kevin Smith

Undersea Cable Hurts Aussie Sites
Last week an undersea cable, which fuels much of the Internet in Australia, was damaged causing businesses and users to experience problems accessing the web. The 39,000 km SEAMEWE 3 cable was damaged on the sea's floor about 100 km from Singapore last week. No one is sure exactly what caused the damage, but experts predict it was from either a passing ship or fishing boat. In addition to the interruption of service, a warning of slow connections between Australia, Asia and Europe was sent out. Crews from Singapore and Indonesia were still in the process of repairing the line earlier this week.

FBI Gets Green Light on E-mail Surveillance System
Carnivore, a controversial surveillance system used by the FBI to monitor the e-mail traffic and Internet browsing of criminal suspects, has been cleared by the U.S. Justice Department following an investigation into the legality of the system. The Carnivore system monitors ISP traffic in order to intercept information on criminal suspects. A court order is officially needed before the FBI can use Carnivore on an individual. However, the system can reportedly scan millions of e-mails each second and some have suggested that it is capable of providing the FBI with the ability to intercept all of an ISP's customers' digital communications.

Another Small Victory for John Doe
A recent Pennsylvania court decision was a big victory for free speech advocates. The Internet has long been used as an avenue for people to vent frustration or criticize and still remain anonymous. The ongoing struggle over the issue of anonymous free speech on the Web passed an important milestone last week when Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. of Pennsylvania ruled that public officials and others cannot use "frivolous defamation lawsuits" to uncover Internet posters' identities. Of a half-dozen similar cases that have reached a judge so far, last week's Pennsylvania case is the first in which a judge has made a detailed written finding that upholds rights for John Doe defendants who criticize public officials.

In the ruling, Judge Wettick explicitly recognizes the importance of anonymous speech, saying that unlike the national media, anonymous Internet speakers are vulnerable because they lack power or money. "Without anonymity, speakers will be less willing to express controversial opinions because of fears of reprisal," Wettick wrote in his ruling. The ruling also establishes the need for protective orders to shield the John Doe defendant's identity during a case's early stages and outlines the policy that a plaintiff cannot "pierce the veil of anonymity" until the John Doe's speech is proven to be false and defamatory.

Diocese Turns to Internet for New Priests
Seeing a decline in the numbers of interested males for the priesthood, the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, is going high-tech in its search for new priests. The Diocese launched a new Web site aimed at helping it recruit men for the priesthood. On the site,, surfers will find vocational information for people of all ages, contacts and prayers, and links to testimonials from men who pursued a religious calling. At least 25 Catholic dioceses have created Web sites to reach a younger audience, said the Rev. Edward Burns, executive director of the Bishops' Committee on Vocations and Priestly Formation. The Des Moines Web site is based on one created for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., by the Rev. John Regan.

E-Stamp Corp. Opting Out of Online Postage Business
E-Stamp Corp. announced Monday it is getting out of the online postage business, abandoning a ballyhooed concept that it pioneered. The Mountain View-based company will lay off 36 employees - about 30 percent of its work force - as part of a reorganization that will focus its efforts on helping other businesses order supplies over the Internet. The work force reductions come on the heels of a 25 percent cutback in July. E-Stamp's withdrawal notice is the latest sign that online postage isn't delivering on the promise many investors saw in the concept a little more than a year ago. Just last month, Santa Monica-based laid off 240 workers in an effort to reverse the steady losses in its business. Meta Group analyst Gene Alvarez said online postage companies are struggling because they didn't make significant inroads among small businesses that rely upon postage-meter machines to send out their mail. Many of those machines are made by Pitney-Bowes, which is suing E-Stamp for infringing on its patent.

Salt Lake City Site Stirs Controversy
Little did the city fathers of Salt Lake City know what they were getting themselves into. They thought creating a Website that was full of government information and services would help them provide a quality service to the citizens of the city. When they decided to accept advertisements to help offset the cost of the site, local business leaders felt they had to speak out against the process. Business leaders felt the site was taking potential revenue away from them and didn't feel it was right for the city to be embarking in such private business activities. The ads will start appearing in about two months. Salt Lake expects will find eight companies willing to pay $4,000 per month each to advertise. Forty percent of that revenue will go to while the rest will be poured back into the Web site.

Hewlett-Packard First to Pay Fine for Making CD Burners
Hewlett-Packard Corp. has become the first company to be snagged by a German law requiring firms to pay fees for making CD burners that are being used to illegally lift the latest hits off the World Wide Web. The case sets the stage for other European countries to possibly adopt similar rules to stem an epidemic that costs the music industry an estimated $5 billion last year.

The German case against Hewlett-Packard extends Germany's pre-existing law into the digital age, when such things as CD burners, computer printers, hard drives and high-speed modems make it easier to copy and transfer copyrighted items. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, about 500 million CDs are pirated annually by people creating their own CDs from downloaded tunes off the Internet. More than 25 million pirated music files are available online, the group estimates. All told, that racked up a $1 billion loss for Europe's $10 billion music industry last year, and cost EU governments around $72 million in lost tax revenues, the group says.