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Lycos loses Dutch ID disclosure case

Bad day for whistleblowers too?

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After almost three years of long-lasting legal procedures, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled today that Dutch ISP Lycos must reveal the name of an anonymous website owner who ridiculed a part-time stamp trader. However, there is little Lycos can disclose other than a fake address that the website owner once provided.

Dutch citizen Bernard Pessers traded postage stamps through eBay and was accused of fraud by an anonymous Lycos member on his home page. Pessers demanded the closure of the site and told Lycos that he also wanted to know the identity of its member. When Lycos refused, Pessers took the ISP to court.

After the initial verdict, Lycos handed over the data, but when the address turned out to be wrong, Pessers started another procedure to force Lycos to find the correct information. That demand was turned down in court, but this was in turn overruled by the Dutch Appeals Court. Lycos then took the case to the Dutch Supreme Court. The so-called Lycos-Pessers defence, which has dragged on for years, has attracted attention from legal experts worldwide.

The Supreme Court today for the most part followed the opinion of the Dutch Advocate General, who earlier this year argued that ISPs in some cases can indeed be sued over the identity of their members to pursue a civil action against someone who's anonymous.

Dutch anti piracy organisation BREIN, which paid the legal bill of Pessers, is delighted with the verdict. It believes the ruling will be beneficial to its case against ISPs who refuse to identify illegal file swappers.

Legal experts, however, fear the ruling can also have consequences for anonymous whistleblowers who want to put up a website and speak out without reprisal. Earlier this month Dutch citizen Ruud Rietveld went to jail over his refusal to remove a website where what he claims are unscrupulous businessmen in the camping site business are "exposed". Despite his detention his site is still up and running.

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