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Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Private info can be searched out

By Jeff Merron
Page 2

Want personal info about Kobe's accuser? Right or wrong, it's easy to come by -- name, address, phone number, e-mail address, high school attended, age, etc.

There is nothing illegal about publishing the woman's name and other details, although most mainstream American media outlets don't publish the names of the complainant in sex-crime cases. Internet search engines, however, are automated, which can create problems for Internet outlets interested in enforcing such policies.

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The accuser's name and address, for example, have been posted on several message boards, including at least once at ESPN.com. The effort is being made at ESPN.com to keep that information off the site and eliminate it when it does appear.

"Our coverage and analysis of this case will not provide the victim's name or picture or a road map to them," said Neal Scarbrough, ESPN.com's Editor-in-Chief. "We are attempting to keep pace with the speed of our users by filtering the content on our message boards."

ESPN.com and the New York Times on the Web are examples of hybrid mainstream journalism Web sites that publish both original material and host public message boards.

"Although the (message board) forums are not our speech, we have a responsibility for the accuracy and tone of speech they accommodate," said Toby Usnik, the director of public relations for the Times, in an e-mail response to a query from ESPN.com. "Therefore, we monitor the forums for appropriateness and a general respect of peoples' rights. In the Bryant case, we would note that there has been no independent confirmation of the accuracy of any name being discussed online. And with regard to our own forums, we have removed one inappropriate comment about the alleged victim because it was inaccurate and linked to an offensive Web site."

A spokesman for Google, one of the Internet's top search engines, said that when a web page owner requests that Google remove its links and its cached version of a specified page, Google honors the request within 24 hours and even provides an automated way to make such a request.

If Kobe's accuser wanted her personal information removed from Google, she would have to contact those who owned either the Web pages or the individual Usenet postings and ask them to request removal from Google, according to David Krane, Google's director of corporate communications.

Otherwise, whatever information is available through Google likely will remain available.

"Our vision and our mission at Google is to provide access to all the world's public information," Krane said. "Unless there's a legal reason, we won't remove information."

Yahoo, another major Internet search engine, didn't respond to repeated inquiries regarding the filtering of sensitive information.

Fred Bullock, the senior vice president of marketing at AltaVista, another search engine, said, "We're basically a reflection of what's on the Internet itself. There's no human editor." But, he added, "If there were [links to] information that was deemed to be illegal -- pedophilia pictures, for example -- we'd remove them automatically."

A radio talk-show host in Los Angeles has repeatedly broadcast the name and other information about the accuser in the Bryant case.