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News Editor

Psst, I hear that . . .

May 05, 20034 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalware

Whistle-blowers have been around since Fred Flintstone dropped a dime on Barney Rubble for barbecuing that last dinosaur.

So, too, have gossips (Barney couldn’t buy a dinner invitation after word of his gluttony spread) and opportunistic business competitors (Mr. Slate tried to parlay the extinction into a line of veggie burgers).

And they didn’t need no stinkin’ Internet to kick up all this dirt.

But today we have such a wonder, which makes a world of difference to those – Congress, for example – who want to encourage corporate whistle-blowers to toot away at will, even if that means flinging the door wide open to gossips, opportunists and cranks.

Let me put this another way: They say you can’t have too much of a good thing?. . . Convenient online anonymity just might be an exception.

Sparking the thought is a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that requires corporations to furnish workers with an anonymous way to report financial shenanigans and ethical breaches. Companies must track and retain copies of such complaints, all of which means this is yet another job that falls to network managers courtesy of policy setters who might not grasp the law of unintended consequences.

In one sense it’s difficult to criticize such initiatives – whether in the corporate realm, national defense or law enforcement – because everyone wants to avoid the next WorldCom or Enron . . . or Sept 11. But, in our rush to make ourselves feel safer, it’s worth asking if we also are becoming a nation of snitches. And whether it will take the besmirching of a hundred good names to find that one scoundrel lurking in some corner office.

I put these questions to Lance Cottrell, CEO and founder of Anonymizer, a company that has made a name for itself by providing anonymity to Internet users. Anonymizer is pitching a new service that helps IT departments comply with Sarbanes-Oxley.

“There’s probably a line you wouldn’t want to cross. I wouldn’t want to have my neighbor, for example, out there with a radar gun taking pictures of me every time I sped down the street,” says Cottrell, whose company does not sell radar guns. “But [whistle-blowing] serves a very important purpose. It’s good to reflect on [possible abuses], but for now we’re well on the side of it being a societal benefit.”

Call me not so sure.

If Arlo Guthrie sent spam . . .

Good to see that the heavy hitters in the industry are enlisting to fight those evil spammers. It’s a war about which this dove generally considers himself hawkish.

However, I couldn’t help giggling last week after reading that Virginia has made sending spam a felony punishable by up to five years – five years! – in prison. My mind wandered to Arlo Guthrie’s classic song about the draft, littering and overzealous law enforcement, and how the lyrics to “Alice’s Restaurant” might be reworked to accommodate Virginia’s new breed of inmate. As you recall, Guthrie found himself parked on a bench with a bunch of fellow draftees who had criminal backgrounds to explain. The “meanest, ugliest, nastiest one” asked him:

” ‘What were you arrested for, kid?’ And I said, ‘Spamming.’ And they all moved away from me on the bench there . . . and said all kinds of mean nasty things, till I said, ‘And creating a nuisance.’ And they all came back, shook my hand, and we had a great time on the bench, talkin’ about crime. . . .”

Seriously, it’s reassuring to know they’ve got such a handle on crime in Virginia that there are cells to spare for this purpose.

Any 8-by-10 color glossy photographs need to be snail-mailed, but other correspondence goes to