All users posting to websites would have to post their real name and address, non-compliant posts would be axed
When people think anonymity, Anonymous and their iconic Guy Fawkes masks often pop into mind these days. But long before the members of that controversial hacker collective were a mere twinkle in their mothers’ eyes, another anti-authoritarian rabble-rouser was using anonymous protest to stir up revolt against a totalitarian ruling elite. His name was Thomas Paine, and his anonymously published work Common Sense helped ignite the colonists in revolution against Britain.
I. Want to Post? Put Your Legal Name and Address Here!
Yet today in the country that Thomas Paine’s anonymous writings helped to give birth to, a country in which speech is supposedly free, something alarming is happening. Several states are looking to outlaw online anonymity.
New York is among them. The State Senate is contemplating Bill S6779 a measure that would force users to post (and verify) their home address, IP address, and legal name in any post they make online.
That’s right; New York is considering laying waste to privacy and anonymous speech in the name of “preventing” online bullying. The bill describes:
It’s unclear exactly how much support the bill has in the State Senate. It was introduced just over two months ago by Sen. Thomas F. O’Mara (R—Big Flats).
New York Republican State Senator Thomas O’Mara wants to force anonymous internet posters to surrender their right to anonymous free speech.
[Image Source: Thomas O’Mara]
Under the plan, New York State law enforcement officials and employees would be taxed with — using taxpayer money — sending takedown requests to websites. Of course, the irony is that the law is grossly out of line with federal laws — and likely unconstitutional — thus if a website is hosted by out of state companies New York regulators might have no way of “forcing” websites like 4Chan or blogs to expose their users.
II. First Amendment, Anyone?
Such a practice would be unacceptable to most web businesses involving user-generated posts. Not only would it violate user privacy and raise legal liability issues, it would also likely decrease participation. At the same time it would hit sites with a double whammy by requiring them to pay for expensive code additions and extra administration.
The First Amendmentstates:
Several state laws prohibiting anonymous pamphlets have already been ruled unconstitutional. See Talley v. California (1960) and McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission(1995), for Supreme Court rulings defending citizens’ right to anonymous speech and printed works.
Despite at least two Supreme Court rulings beating them back, states’ effort to ban anonymous free speech has persisted into the digital era [Image Source: City-Data]
Thus, one thing is for sure — if New York does adopt this wild restriction of civil liberties, it will surely be swiftly challenged. And based on past precedent, it will almost certainly be ruled illegal on First Amendment grounds.