Wired Strategies Press Release

Email Press Release: Fears of Cyber-Spying Escalate - January 12, 1998    

Contacts: John Aravosis, 202/328-5707
Barbara Bode, 202/588-9598

Monday, January 12, 1998, 11:00a.m.           

Fears of Cyber-Spying Escalate, as Navy Prepares to Discharge Sailor
America Online and Navy May Have Violated Law, Experts Say

WASHINGTON, DC – Fears of cyber-spying are escalating in the wake of the Navy's plans to discharge a sailor this week.  According to sworn testimony in Navy documents, the Navy successfully solicited what appears to be confidential subscriber information from America Online (AOL), the nation’s largest Internet service, in an effort to identify the sexual orientation of a servicemember.  This exchange of information has led to the expected discharge of the decorated 17-year veteran this week.

Online legal experts see a potentially serious violation of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which requires that a government agency seeking information about a citizen’s online communications or subscriber information go through an appropriate legal process.

"The Navy appears to have obtained the information under false pretenses, and at the very least violated the spirit of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act," said David Sobel, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center ( http://www.epic.org ).  "And there appears to be strong evidence that AOL violated its own contractual terms of service, and possibly federal law as well."

Senior Chief Petty Officer Timothy R. McVeigh (no relation to the Oklahoma City bomber) was serving as the top enlisted man on board the nuclear attack submarine, USS Chicago, when he returned to port in Hawaii last September and was confronted by Navy investigators.  They claimed to have evidence linking McVeigh to an AOL "member profile" that they believed to be "gay."  That profile was subsequently the key piece of evidence used by the Navy in McVeigh’s discharge proceedings.

According to sworn testimony, Navy staff legalman Joseph M. Kaiser called AOL seeking information on what he suspected was McVeigh’s AOL email account.  "I called AOL and talked to a gentleman named Owen at Tech Services," Kaiser testified.  "I said that I am the third party in receipt of a fax and wanted to confirm the profile sheet, who it belonged to.  They said it came from Hawaii and that it was ‘Timothy R. McVeigh’ on the billing," Kaiser testified.

Kirk Childress, staff attorney with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is helping with McVeigh’s defense, was quoted on CNet ( http://www.news.com ) on Friday as saying that without the link between McVeigh and the AOL screen name, the government’s case would be much weaker, and they might not have been able to make it at all.  "It is doubtful to me that a court would have issued a subpoena under these circumstances," said Childress.

"This sailor is roadkill on the information superhighway," said John Aravosis, founder of Wired Strategies ( http://www.wiredstrategies.com ), a political Internet consulting firm in Washington, DC, and adviser to McVeigh.  "It is not acceptable for the government to use the Internet to spy on its citizens and destroy their lives."
Gay leaders are also alarmed over this attempt to move the military’s anti-gay policy into the online realm.  "US law protects your privacy whether you’re straight or gay," said gay Clinton appointee Bob Hattoy.  "I don’t think cyber-espionage is what the President had in mind when he endorsed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ – the Administration has to help this man."

McVeigh has been publicizing his case on the Internet with a Web site and email campaign, and had already received nearly 2,000 messages of support from around the world when America Online canceled his email account early last Friday morning, reportedly for "abuse."  Online competitor Prodigy responded by offering McVeigh a free lifetime Internet account in which they "absolutely assure his utmost confidentiality in any and all matters."  McVeigh has accepted Prodigy’s offer.  

"I have been trained to be a leader, fair and by the book," McVeigh says on his Web site ( http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/9241/index.html ).  "And if the Navy wants to throw the book and fairness out, I will still go by the book and in human fairness lead the fight against them for the benefit of all."
McVeigh is a highly decorated 17-year Navy 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."
Press stories to-date include: The New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, USNews & World Report, Cnet, PlanetOUT.


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