Virtually Blind's Benjamin Duranske was, just as we were, taken somewhat aback by a recent article that reported that Professor George Stein, the Director of the Cyberspace and Information Operations Study Center at the Air Force's Air War College ("The Intellectual and Leadership Center of the Air Force") told people attending a seminar on security issues and emerging technology that it was okay to spy on avatars because "the Supreme Court has ruled that avatars are not real people" and that avatars are, thus, "not governed by laws." -- thus concluding that there are no significant legal barriers to spying and surveillance on them.
Ouch, huh? We here at Massively have to call bullshit on that. No actual case-law was cited by name, so there's no evidence at this stage that such a ruling exists. Duranske is digging deep to find out if there might be such a ruling and is looking for help in running down any possible references. Up for grabs for one contributor is a signed copy of his book, Virtual Law. Neither we nor Duranske think anything will turn up to substantiate the claim, but who knows? Maybe there is some obscure US Supreme Court ruling out there that we've all missed.
Considering the contradictory nature of some of Stein's statements, we're thinking probably not. At one turn, he says 'Since these avatars aren't real people, the courts can't have too much of a problem with us spying on them.'
Yet he also says that 'The sites also offer long-term opportunities for covert influencing activities' -- which makes no sense unless there are real, actual people involved.
Maybe there's something funny in the water at Maxwell.