AOL Acknowledges Improper Release of Private Information
The saga of U.S. Navy officer Timothy McVeigh has spilled over from the Net into the mainstream media. Newspapers and television stations are now following the story of McVeigh (no relation to the Oklahoma City bomber), a submarine officer who faces discharge because the Navy discovered that he listed "gay" in the Marital Status section of his profile in AOL's member directory. The case raises questions about privacy online--and about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
AOL's general counsel appeared on a national television news program yesterday and essentially admitted that the online service had not followed proper procedure and had violated its own terms of service by giving out private information without a subpoena. But McVeigh's discharge is still on schedule to occur Friday. And that's caused some observers to caution us not to forget the human side of this story.
John Aravosis, an advisor to McVeigh, is the founder of Wired Strategies, a political Internet consulting firm. He says, "I think both parties need to do an in-depth investigation of what happened...admit that the soldier is road kill on the information highway, and set him free. What keeps being lost in this case is that this guy got the shaft and now everyone's focusing on the other parties."
But at least some of those with a policy ax to grind on this issue have not forgotten about McVeigh. On behalf of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, counsel David Sobel has written a letter to Secretary of the Navy John Dalton asking him to postpone the discharge and closely examine the circumstances surrounding the Navy's handling of the matter.