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A new ruling by the Irish courts could undermine people who have a genuine need for online anonymity and deter whistleblowers, lobby group Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) claims.

It issued the warning after a High Court judge ordered Eircom, BT and Irish Broadband to hand over the details of 49 customers who have allegedly been uploading music files onto file-sharing networks.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly ordered the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the 49 holders of the Internet Protocol numbers identified by the music companies.

"It sets an unfortunate precedent, there are a lot of good reasons why somebody would want to remain anonymous online," TJ McIntyre, DRI chairman told ElectricNews.Net. "They should have an opportunity to defend themselves before they're stripped of anonymity."

He said the issue could have repercussions beyond the issue of illegal file-sharing, and said anonymity is an important right for whistleblowers who want to report corruption, dishonesty or unsafe working practices, without fear or retribution.

DRI wrote to the ISPs prior to the case, asking them to present the court with two European precedents, which might have persuaded the court to make a different decision.

The courts in the Netherlands found that the manner in which IP addresses were collected and processed by MediaSentry - the same company that collected information for the Irish case - had no lawful basis under European privacy laws.

DRI also highlighted a case in the UK, which found that users whose identities might be revealed should be notified, so they would have the opportunity to be represented in court.

Only one ISP presented these arguments, according to McIntyre. He said the courts chose not to take these arguments into account in its decision.

The orders were sought by EMI Records, Sony BMG Music, Universal Music Ireland, and Warner Music Ireland. The judge said the plaintiff companies had no other way of getting the information on the identities of the 49 persons except by court order.

The ISPs did not oppose the making of the orders, but had sought undertakings that the identities of the 49 persons would not be publicly disclosed except in the context of any legal proceedings which may be taken subsequently.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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