Plaintiff’s Lawyers Sue ISPs to Demand Better Filtering, Policing

Michael Hayes
NEW YORK — Private lawsuits demanding that Internet service providers do a better job policing the Internet are growing in number, according to a recent article in the National Law Journal.

While the factual cases vary, the arguments are largely the same: ISPs have a responsibility to protect surfers from porn, predators and a host of other online evils, according to the article.

“I think the ISPs have become the wild, wild West,” attorney Thomas R. Rask said. “People can do whatever they want under the guise of free speech. People are allowed to peddle whatever they want on the Internet, and ISPs have just turned a blind eye.”

Rask represents an Oregon woman who is suing Yahoo for $3 million, claiming that the site allowed her ex-boyfriend to post nude photos of her online without her permission. The case is on appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a Los Angeles case, a 19-year-old woman is suing AOL for an undisclosed amount, alleging that the company failed to protect her from a chatroom monitor. The monitor worked in a “kids only” chatroom and allegedly seduced the woman while she was a minor.

Another case, brought by parents of a minor in Texas, alleges that Yahoo negligently allowed the operation of a site called Candyman, where adults and minors traded pornography.

Yahoo would not comment on a specific case, but reiterated its position on pornography.

“We encourage our users to submit [turn in] content that may be in violation of our policies,” Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osaka said. “Content that is unlawful or threatening is closely scrutinized by Yahoo. Yahoo is committed to reviewing reports and taking appropriate action. And appropriate action could include the removal of such content or the deactivation of the user's account.”

While legal battles rage across the country, plaintiff’s lawyers face an uphill battle in federal courts, where there are an absence of laws imposing a duty to protect users, according to the article.

In the meantime, legal wrangling has spilled over to numerous state arenas.

“Part of the reaction of states has been: If you're going to absolve these ISPs of responsibility, then we're going to turn around and go after it on the state level,” Matthew Prince, professor of Internet law at The John Marshal Law School, said.

Utah and Michigan currently have “do not email” statutes. The Free Speech Coalition has brought suit seeking to block the Utah legislation.

According to Prince, seven states are considering similar legislation.