Fact Check

Internet Privacy Act

Does citing 'code 431.322.12 of the Internet Privacy Act' protect web site operators from prosecution?

Published Nov. 23, 2002


Claim:   Citing "code 431.322.12 of the Internet Privacy Act" protects web site operators from prosecution.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

If you are affiliated with any government, anti-piracy group or any other related group, or were formally a worker of one you CANNOT enter this web site, cannot access any of its files and you cannot view any of the HTML files. If you enter this site you are not agreeing to these terms and you are violating code 431.322.12 of the Internet Privacy Act signed by Bill Clinton in 1995 and that means that you CANNOT threaten our ISP(s) or any person(s) or company storing these files, and cannot prosecute any person(s) affiliated with this page which includes family, friends or individuals who run or enter this web site.

Origins:   The passage quoted above, or variants thereof, can be found on thousands of web sites (particularly those that traffic in pirated software, music, and

films), placed there in the misguided belief that it actually provides web site operators protection against being prosecuted for engaging in illegal, Internet-related activities. As a legal stratagem, it's just as flawed as the widely-believed notion that prostitutes and drug dealers

can foil the efforts of undercover cops simply by asking them flat out "Are you a cop?" under the mistaken assumption that law enforcement officers cannot lie about their status (and if they do, the bust will be thrown out of court as a case of "entrapment").

As to the specifics of this dubious disclaimer, President Clinton signed no "Internet Privacy Act" in 1995, and existing federal privacy protections applicable to the world of cyberspace generally govern the collection and dissemination of personal information (such as medical records) via the Internet. Federal privacy laws don't serve to provide those who break laws in the on-line world with protection from prosecution should their illegal cyber-activities be uncovered by law enforcement officials visiting their web sites.

When it comes to acts that a significant portion of the public doesn't feel should be criminal (such as prostitution or distributing copyright-protected material via the Internet), many of those who engage in such acts cling to the belief that the use of some simple legal talisman — knowing enough to ask the right question or post a pertinent disclaimer — will immunize them from prosecutorial harm, but the law just doesn't work that way. Although we do have some well-established legal protections against the search and seizure of property and the disclosure of certain types of information (e.g., communications between priest and penitents, doctors and patients, lawyers and clients, husbands and wives) in legal proceedings, there are no special laws to prevent law enforcement officials from gathering information about illegal activities through the course of normal investigative efforts just because those efforts take place online, nor are the results of those efforts nullified if investigators conceal or fail to reveal their status as law enforcement officials.

The surest way of avoiding punishment for breaking the law remains . . . don't break the law.

Last updated:   18 July 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Healey, Jon.   "Some Web Sites Are Posting a 'Keep Out' Sign to Law Enforcement."

    Los Angeles Times.   19 November 2002   (p. C1).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags