N.Y. bills would squelch anonymity online
(Gene Policinski, FirstAmendmentCenter.org, May 24, 2012)
My name is a line or three above this one.
It tells you who I say I am — and, if you care to look, you can find out more about me easily and in short order by going to the Web.
But do we need to know everybody’s name who, literally or figuratively, puts pen to paper (or would that be “keystroke to electrons”)?
Two identical New York legislative proposals — Senate Bill 6779 and Assembly Bill 8688 – would virtually do away with anonymous online postings by requiring Web administrators, upon receiving a complaint, to take down any comments to which the writer has not attached his or her name.
There’s been no vote yet these, but they’re attracting a good deal of attention from free-speech advocates who say there’s no need for them. Sponsors say such a law would help lessen a variety of ills, from bullying to “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks.”
Like proposals to curb hateful speech or to require young people to dress better, the intentions of the bills’ sponsors and supporters may be good. But they’re not thinking this idea through — they’re ignoring about 50 years of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting anonymous speech, to say nothing of about 230 years of American tradition.
In 1960, the Supreme Court in Talley v. California threw out a Los Angeles city ordinance that required names and addresses of sponsors of leaflets and fliers. Justice Hugo Black wrote: “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.”
More recently, in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission (1995), Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that “under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”
He said the First Amendment exists “to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation — and their ideas from suppression — at the hand of an intolerant society.”
“The right to remain anonymous,” Stevens wrote, “may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.”
Existing laws provide that if a person files a lawsuit claiming he or she was defamed in an online posting, there are means — a subpoena — of discovering the identity of the writer.
Even a number of the nation’s founders opted for anonymity when writing their portions of the Federalist Papers — a fact noted in both of the Court’s opinions.
What’s posted online in New York state may not rise to the level of helping to define a nation. But we ought not to throw out a necessary, long-protected mode of public discourse and democracy just to prevent the impolite, inappropriate and impolitic from speaking out online.
S T A T E O F N E W Y O R K
I N S E N A T E
March 21, 2012
Introduced by Sen. O'MARA -- read twice and ordered printed, and when printed to be committed to the Committee on Codes
AN ACT to amend the civil rights law, in relation to protecting a person's right to know who is behind an anonymous internet posting
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, REPRESENTED IN SENATE AND ASSEMBLY, DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:
Section 1. The civil rights law, is amended by adding a new section 79-o to read as follows:
S 79-O. ANONYMOUS INTERNET POSTER; RIGHT TO KNOW.
1. DEFINITIONS. AS USED IN THIS SECTION, THE FOLLOWING WORDS AND TERMS SHALL HAVE THE FOLLOWING MEANINGS:
(A) ANONYMOUS POSTER IS ANY INDIVIDUAL WHO POSTS A MESSAGE ON A WEBSITE INCLUDING SOCIAL NETWORKS, BLOGS FORUMS, MESSAGE BOARDS OR ANY OTHER DISCUSSION SITE WHERE PEOPLE CAN HOLD CONVERSATIONS IN THE FORM OF POSTED MESSAGES.
(B) "WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR" MEANS ANY PERSON OR ENTITY THAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MAINTAINING A WEB SITE OR MANAGING THE CONTENT OR DEVELOPMENT OF INFORMATION PROVIDED ON A WEB SITE INCLUDING SOCIAL NETWORKS, BLOGS, FORUMS, MESSAGE BOARDS OR ANY OTHER DISCUSSION SITE WHERE PEOPLE CAN HOLD CONVERSATIONS IN THE FORM OF pOSTED MESSAGES, ACCESSIBLE VIA A NETWORK SUCH AS THE INTERNET OR A PRIVATE LOCAL AREA NETWORK.
(C) "INTERNET" MEANS THE GLOBAL SYSTEM OF INTERCONNECTED COMPUTER NETWORKS THAT USE THE INTERNET PROTOCOL.
(D) "INTERNET PROTOCOL ADDRESS" OR "IP ADDRESS" MEANS A NUMERICAL LABEL ASSIGNED TO EACH COMPUTER OR DEVICE PARTICIPATING IN A COMPUTER NETWORK THAT USES THE INTERNET PROTOCOL FOR COMMUNICATION.
2. A WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR UPON REQUEST SHALL REMOVE ANY COMMENTS POSTED ON HIS OR HER WEB SITE BY AN ANONYMOUS POSTER UNLESS SUCH ANONYMOUS POSTER AGREES TO ATTACH HIS OR HER NAME TO THE POST AND CONFIRMS THAT HIS OR HER IP ADDRESS, LEGAL NAME, AND HOME ADDRESS ARE ACCURATE. ALL WEB SITE ADMINISTRATORS SHALL HAVE A CONTACT NUMBER OR E-MAIL ADDRESS POSTED FOR SUCH REMOVAL REQUESTS, CLEARLY VISIBLE IN ANY SECTIONS WHERE COMMENTS ARE POSTED.
Section 2. This act shall take effect on the ninetieth day after it shall have become a law.
The Commerce Clause has historically been viewed as both a grant of congressional authority and as a restriction on states’ powers to regulate. The “dormant” Commerce Clause refers to the prohibition, implied in the Commerce Clause, against states passing legislation that discriminates against or excessively burdens interstate commerce.
Anonymous postings should not be legislated
(Terry Greenberg, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, May 27, 2012)
I’ve written a lot lately about the ongoing debate if people should be allowed to remain anonymous when posting story comments on our websites.
As I’ve said more than once, we may not like every comment our audience makes — we let them criticize us even when they’re blatantly wrong — but your free speech is more important to us than our egos.
Not everyone feels the way we do — I know a number of people think posters should not be allowed to be anonymous.
At some point, I’m concerned the government will decide to settle the issue – and they’re trying in New York.
Found the following on the web from Holtz Communication + Technology, based in northern California and run by Shel Holtz … an old college friend from our days at Cal State Northridge.
He wrote: “There is no doubt that anonymity enables most of the truly heinous actions taken online. Anonymity also enables people living in repressive regimes to communicate what’s happening in their countries. In Egypt, anonymous bloggers spoke out against the Mubarak regime. Those who were identified were dragged from their homes and thrown in jail. Anonymity was their only protection.
“New York isn’t exactly a repressive regime, but there are other legitimate and necessary uses of anonymity right here at home. There was, for example, the wife of the Electronic Arts employee who chronicled workplace abuses, leading to change. Had she identified herself, her husband most likely would have lost his job.
“Ignoring these types of situations, the New York State Senate and Assembly have both introduced bills that would ‘amend civil rights law’ to protect ‘a person’s right to know who is behind an anonymous Internet posting.’
“The Electronic Frontier Foundation, on a page dedicated to anonymity, reminds us that the U.S. Supreme Court, time and time again, has upheld the right to anonymous free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
“Wired’s report on its Threat Level blog notes that one of the sponsors (a Republican) claims it would ‘help lend some accountability to the Internet age.’ Sounds more like a threat to free speech to me. Baseless political attacks and mean-spirited commentary—cited by another Republican legislator to justify the legislation—is the price we pay to enable people to speak freely without fear of being persecuted for what they express.”