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October 31, 2007

Merrill Lynch may subpoena Microsoft over identity of racist emailer

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:15 PM

Brokerage giant Merrill Lynch is going after someone who has sent racist e-mails to black Wall Street brokers and Al Sharpton posing as a Merrill manager.

According to coverage by The Associated Press and Dow Jones, the company filed suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan late yesterday seeking to identify and stop the sender, who is using a Microsoft Hotmail -- now Windows Live Hotmail -- e-mail account.

Merrill Lynch thinks the defendant, identified in the suit as "John Doe," is somewhere in the Midwest.

"The offensive e-mails were sent to a number of our employees by an anonymous sender," Merrill Lynch spokesman Mark Herr said in an e-mailed statement. "We have sued the anonymous sender and will move to subpoena both the ISP and Microsoft Hotmail for information that would reveal the identity of the sender."

I've asked Microsoft for a response.

Update: "Microsoft opposes discrimination in any form and will take swift action when it learns its products or services are being used in an abusive or harmful manner," reads a statement from David Bowermaster, a Microsoft senior public relations manager. "In taking such action, Microsoft maintains its commitment to protecting the privacy of its customers. Microsoft complies with properly issued and served subpoenas, search warrants and court orders."

(Bowermaster was formerly a reporter for The Seattle Times.)

Privacy is a huge issue for Microsoft and other providers of online services such as e-mail and instant messaging. It's recently been raised as in issue around targeted online advertising.

Here are some key passages from Microsoft's Online Privacy statement, updated most recently this month:

"Except as described in this statement, we will not disclose your personal information outside of Microsoft and its controlled subsidiaries and affiliates without your consent. ... We may access and/or disclose your personal information if we believe such action is necessary to: (a) comply with the law or legal process served on Microsoft; (b) protect and defend the rights or property of Microsoft (including the enforcement of our agreements); or (c) act in urgent circumstances to protect the personal safety of users of Microsoft services or members of the public." (Emphasis added.)

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Tricia Duryee
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