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August 29, 2005


actually I'm on board with the privacy argument. (give me a call at work if you want to argue it, kagro, you must know where to reach me by now.)

the "reasonable expectation of privacy" is a legal argument, and certainly there is no legal breach of privacy here. I don't believe it's a legal breach of privacy to stand in your apartment and look through your neighbor's window with binoculars at night, either. But it's still bad manners.

The public interest argument is valid -- if someone is breaking the rule "forbidden from performing strictly political work from a Member of Congress' personal office" (what other kind of work is ever getting done in a congressperson's office?!). But I'd note that IP addresses are not exactly a blood trail -- they are easy to "spoof" and any semi-computer-literate teen could use IP spoofing to post blog comments that appear to come from a Representative's office. (and I'm going to ask the next teen I meet exactly how they do that.) If it were hard evidence, surely it is more newsworthy, but an IP address is evidence at the level of gossip and hearsay. It's fit for Drudge, but not fit for human consumption.

There is a clear standard of anonymous speech on blogs, or my name isn't emptypockets.

Sure there's a standard of anonymous speech on blogs. But there's also a growing standard demanding disclosure, or my name isn't Zephyr Teachout.

There is a pretty strict and relatively clear line between legislative and political work that Congressional staffers are trained (most very poorly) to abide by. Just as you can't make fundraising calls from your office, you can't do PR on blogs for your candidate, either, much less using federally employed staffers and federally procured computers and Internet connections.

Silly as it may be that those fundraising calls can be made by the same person, during the same hours, so long as they're made from across the street on the NRCC's phones, that's the rule.

Besides which, no names have been named here. We still don't know the identity of the commenter. Only that his or her disguise is particularly thin. He or she is only slightly less anonymous than before, if you even consider posting pro-Simmons propaganda on an anti-Simmons site to be any kind of cover.

Perhaps a better question, then, is why Simmons' staffers, if that's indeed who they are, felt the need to engage in this debate anonymously. Surely even the readers of an anti-Simmons blog would be interested and excited to read rebuttals coming directly from the man himself, or one of his staffers, even though they may disagree. If privacy were really as much of a concern as honesty, then even a semi-anonymous appearance would have been preferable and more honorable. Why not show up as "Simmons Staffer" or "Simmons Supporter" instead? And for God's sake, do it on your own time.

It's been pretty easy to figure out who I am from dKos, as a matter of fact a few trolls figured it out. But I always let people know if I have a specific interest in certain posts I write. Disclosing that you work for someone you are defending should be a prerequisite though. But then the right has never been a firm believer in disclosure, just ask Armstrong Williams.

Well, there were two separate actions here we're talking about. One is the anonymous posting from Simmons' office which is exceeded in hubris only by clownishness and at which I will certainly be outraged as soon as I stop smirking. The second is the site admin making that info public, which is the one I'm saying is questionable (although honestly my heart's not really in it -- go ahead & out the bastards).

If I were the admin, I might contact the office privately & also ban the IP, and even make a moderately cryptic public comment about a poster just having being banned because they were found to be concealing a conflict of interest in what they wrote.

On the other hand, Kagro & Mike have more or less convinced me otherwise. I guess I'm caught between, if not two golden rules, at least one silver and one bronze: what would I want to have happen if it had been a Dem office accused up by a conservative site (keep it private); and what would I expect to actually happen in that case in reality (siren graphics on Drudge).

I do think turnabout on this issue via IP spoofing (i.e., they fake posts & accuse one of our guys of having made them) is worth being alert to; but then I thought we were being had when that poorly-reasoned diarist over on dKos claimed to be Hackett. I guess we can always do worse to ourselves than anyone will do against us, as Simmons has here shown.

Note to Democrats - use an anonymous proxy or a terminal at your public library for your astroturf efforts. (Republicans, please ignore.)

but then I thought we were being had when that poorly-reasoned diarist over on dKos claimed to be Hackett. I guess we can always do worse to ourselves than anyone will do against us, as Simmons has here shown.

Don't forget DHinMI's stalker who kept trying to post personal info about him on dKos and here. Of course she was nuts so that may be a far different situation.

OK, then. I'd be willing to admit that there might have been better ways to handle the situation, as the site administrator.

On the other hand, many blogs and similar sites require registration with legitimate personal information, both for purposes of identity verification (where appropriate) and for the security and integrity of the site itself. Even those not requiring such registration provide the system administrator with certain information about those accessing the site, again for security purposes.

I would certainly be more likely to see the Simmons staffers as victims if they were passive readers, and the site administrator chose to reveal that they were reading the blog. But when they became active participants in the conversation, and essentially sought to influence the debate while concealing their identities and conflicts of interest, I think it's quite remarkable that they would rely on what can best be described as a mere courtesy among bloggers to protect them.

Rereading the staffer's response again, this part now strikes me as unintentionally hilarious: When someone elects to keep their identity secret, and uses this identity to criticize you in a fair manner, seeking revenge by outing them seems to violate an unwritten ethics that exists.

The reason that's so hilarious, of course, is that the use of Simmons' Congressional office resources to do this anonymous political PR work was in all likelihood a violation of the very real and very much written House ethics rules.

So I suppose if you really, really wanted to belabor the point -- and I usually do -- what this site administrator has on his hands is something of a Judy Miller problem. An anonymous "source" with very real conflicts of interest, relying on convention to protect his or her identity while he or she pursues a partisan political agenda (improperly outside of FEC oversight, I might add) without fear of accountability.

Still, that's not to say it couldn't have been handled differently.

But it wasn't! So HA!

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