Wired Strategies Press Release

Email story pitch: Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't AOL   January 11, 1998     Saturday, January 10, 1998
Summary: Did America Online – with over 50% of the email market -- conspire with the US Navy to violate federal law when it allegedly revealed the identity of a member to a Navy investigator, resulting in his imminent discharge?  

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t AOL

That’s the concern of millions of AOL subscribers after the Navy testified under oath at a Nov. 7, 1997 administrative hearing that AOL divulged confidential subscriber information to the US Navy, costing submariner Timothy R. McVeigh (no relation to the Oklahoma City McVeigh) his 17-year career and pension. 
The Navy believed McVeigh to be the owner of an AOL "member profile" that looked "gay" – but had no concrete proof that the profile was McVeigh’s.  Navy legal staff testified that they called AOL, and without meeting any of the explicit exceptions detailed in AOL’s written terms of service, were told by a "Tech Services" staffer that the profile in question belonged to Timothy R. McVeigh of Hawaii.  The military is discharging McVeigh on Friday January 16, 1998 based exclusively on his private and personal AOL profile (this was not a government email account).  

Cyber civil liberties lawyers are calling this a clear violation of federal privacy law on the part of both the Navy and AOL, and are up in arms over the green-light a McVeigh discharge would give for future cyber-espionage by the government against American citizens.  The Navy has yet to explain its actions, or defend the legality of its acquisition of McVeigh's billing information.

McVeigh was until recently the top enlisted man on board the nuclear attack submarine, USS Chicago, stationed out of Hawaii.  He is a highly-decorated veteran, having earned the Navy Commendation Medal, three Navy Achievement medals, four Good Conduct medals, three Battle E’s, four sea service ribbons, and recognition for his service in Southeast Asia and the Arctic.  In his most recent performance review he was described as an "outstanding role model."

America Online denies releasing any information to the Navy, and closed down McVeigh’s AOL email account yesterday for "abuse," coincidentally at the same time his story was given top billing by the New York Times.  McVeigh lost all email correspondence the account contained with his attorneys, the press, friends, and others.
Press Reaction

New York Times, 1/9/98 - "Sailor Says Navy is Using AOL Profile to Oust Him" - CyberTimes
"The profile does not contain his last name, just an AOL screen name, but according to sworn naval testimony that McVeigh has posted on his [Web] site, a naval official said Navy authorities called the online service and traced the profile to a Timothy McVeigh in Honolulu."

San Francisco Chronicle, 1/10/98 - "Discharge for Online Gay Profile - Sailor says Navy got info improperly", p. A3
"’If the U.S. navy is allowed to fire someone based on information illegally obtained from AOL, then who’s next?’ asked John Aravosis, founder of Wired Strategies, a political Internet consulting firm in Washington, D.C.  ‘Can a private company call AOL to investigate an employee and then fire him?’"

C|Net - www.news.com, 1/9/98 - "AOL Accused of Privacy Violation"

"’AOL appears to have violated its much-touted privacy policy and destroyed a subscriber’s life,’ said David Sobel, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center.  ‘Every AOL subscriber needs to be concerned about this incident.’"

"’…when the Navy investigator called AOL seeking to connect the screen name with McVeigh, it also violated federal law: the Electronic Communications Privacy Act…’  ‘The military clearly violated the law…they are not just allowed to call up and say who they are and seek information about an individual….what if they had called up and asked for the identify of your kid’s screen name…what if it was me and somebody wants to know who I was and where I live?’"

USNews & World Report also has a story this weekend, the Washington Post interviewed McVeigh today, National Public Radio is investigating, and Dateline NBC, USA Today and Baltimore Sun have expressed interest.
For more information, please contact John Aravosis, Internet policy expert and online advocacy adviser to Timothy McVeigh, 202/328-5707 or 202/328-0013, < john@wiredstrategies.com >, Kirk Childress, McVeigh's attorney in DC, 202/328-3244, or David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, 202/544-9240.  Copies of the sworn Navy testimony are available.

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