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Privacy

Raytheon Company v. John Does 1-21, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Middlesex Superior Court, Civil Action Number 99-816.

Summary

On February 1, 1999, Raytheon filed suit against 21 employees it alleges posted or discussed confidential corporate information on a Yahoo! message board, in violation of their employment contracts and Raytheon's published employment policy, and claiming, in addition, that this conduct constituted a misappropriation of Raytheon's trade secrets. To identify the "John Does" Raytheon obtained a court order allowing its counsel to take out-of-state discovery from Yahoo, AOL, Earthlink and various other ISPs, seeking documents and information identifying the 21.

Analysis

By framing its lawsuit primarily as a breach of contract action, Raytheon limited the defendants' ability to rely on a "free speech" defense because typically in situations where an employee has signed a contract which specifically precludes disclosure of trade secrets or other confidential corporate information, the availability of that defense is limited to "whistle blower" cases. In addition, it is also possible that any jurisdictional defenses normally available to defendants outside of Massachusetts may have been limited or eliminated by the terms of the employment agreements.

The privacy issue raised by the out-of-state discovery from Yahoo, AOL and the ISPs - the right of the authors to remain anonymous, if you will - is very limited. In order to access Yahoo's message board and post, the authors each agreed to the terms and conditions set forth in Yahoo's "term and conditions" agreement concerning the use of the message board, including providing Yahoo with a valid email address and to the terms and conditions of their ISP.

Yahoo's message board disclaimer states that while Yahoo! will take reasonable measures to respect the privacy of users, Yahoo! reserves the right to turn over user identification information if Yahoo! in good faith believes that disclosure is necessary in certain circumstances, including to comply with legal process or the law. After being served with Raytheon's subpoena, Yahoo apparently provided Raytheon with the author's email addresses or other information.

In May, 1999, Raytheon dismissed the lawsuit after several of the identified employees had apparently resigned.

Copyright SRBC 1998 up