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RealTime IT News

Telling E-Tales Out of School

A new service lets kids or parents report problems to the principal without fear of reprisals.

On Monday, TheAnonymousEmail.Com launched a free service designed to aid people in bringing problems like bullying or drug-dealing to school officials anonymously.

Howard Baer, president of TheAnonymousEmail.com, said he got the idea for the special service when he received positive feedback from a parent who used the subscription service to report a school bully.

When a school signs up, it registers an e-mail address to receive any complaints or messages sent via the service. Students can visit TheAnonymousEmail.com and pick out their school from a drop-down list, then write the e-mail using a template.

The e-mailer doesn't know exactly to whom the e-mail is going, and, on the other end, the designated school official knows only that the e-mail came from the service.

Baer said that because a user logs onto TheAnonymousEmail.com's secure server, the service doesn't log the user's IP address, so there's no way to trace where the e-mail came from.

He added that the company adamantly refuses to share its own logs, except when asked by law enforcement. He said the company has been sued twice in attempts to obtain information about the sender of an e-mail, and promised to stand up to any lawsuits.

"I will not give up the information. Period," he said.

Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, said that protecting users' information was especially critical when it came to such whistle-blowing activities.

"Any time you're talking about a complaint about someone's alleged bad behavior, whether drug dealing or a teacher engaging in inappropriate behavior with students, that strikes me as extremely sensitive information that can damage someone's reputation, unless it's handled very carefully," Tien said.

In fact, Tien added, while this use of technology may make it easier and safer to report bad behavior, technology can't help the most important part of the whistle-blowing process.

"Once you've solved that technical question, everything else is a due-process-type issue," Tien said. "How does the school deal with the due process of the person being accused? How do they ensure that any investigation is respectful of that person's rights?"

The free service to schools is based on an existing anonymous e-mailing service that costs $19.95 a year, designed for individuals to anonymously send comments or complaints -- or even compliments -- to businesses or individuals.

The company pitches corporate versions to restaurants to let employees report theft and patrons comment on their experiences. The service can also help companies provide an anonymous means for employees to file complaints regarding auditing and accounting practices, which is a provision of Sarbanes-Oxley.