Raytheon demands disclosure of Internet chatters 8.39 p.m. ET (140 GMT) March 4, 1999 By Leslie Miller,�Associated Press
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) � Chatting anonymously about your employer on the Internet may not be as safe as you think.
Raytheon Corp., the Lexington-based defense giant, is suing 21 online chatters who it believes are employees disclosing company secrets. The company has asked Yahoo Inc., which runs the offending chat group, to identify the people behind their electronic handles.
"We are committed to and take seriously our responsibility to protect proprietary information,'' said Raytheon spokeswoman Toni Simonetti on Thursday. "We'll take legal action necessary to that.''
The case underscores a difficulty with Internet chat groups, which encourage the kinds of conversations that might take place after work in a bar. But the electronic message boards create an illusion of privacy that can embolden people to broadcast their thoughts all over the world.
In the case of Raytheon, a $19.5 billion company with 100,000 employees, on-line messages were allegedly posted by workers who assumed such screen names as RSCDeepthroat, SadNTexas and snowbaw198.
The messages revealed what Raytheon claims are company secrets, mostly about manpower projections and financial issues. In the complaint filed in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge last month, Raytheon said the workers violated employment agreements not to disclose confidential information.
But much of the information revealed in the chat group was either speculative, inaccurate or already public.
A spokeswoman for Yahoo, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif., said the company will comply with a subpoena if one is issued, but otherwise won't disclose a user's identification.
"We have very, very strict privacy policies,'' Yahoo spokeswoman Diane Hunt said. "We're careful not to just give out user information.''
Raytheon is asking for an injunction against the chatters preventing further disclosure of company secrets, compensatory damages and attorney fees and expenses. That worried some.
"It seems kind of disturbing that a company would check up on employees this way,'' said Scott Charnas, an attorney who works for a law firm specializing in labor law and is not involved in the case.
Charnas said he didn't know of any statute preventing Yahoo from disclosing the names of its chat group members.
"There may be an expectation of privacy when people sign on with these screen names, but that's probably a false expectation,'' said Charnas.