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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:

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.

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).  

Senator Thomas O'Mara
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 Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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.

Supreme Court
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.

Sources: NY State Senate, AP

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RE: This guy hates his job
By Reclaimer77 on 5/26/2012 9:31:24 AM , Rating: 2
There's no double standard. This man clearly does NOT embrace Conservative ideals. If he did, I'm sure he wouldn't have won his election in New York in the first place, but I digress. Call him what you want, I don't care. But he's not the kind of Republican we need in office to "represent" the party.

I never thought I would take so much crap for pointing out the obvious. This guy is just another of the mainstream establishment "progressive" Republicans. What, exactly, is so polarizing about pointing that out?

You people are acting like I'm injecting politics where it doesn't belong or something. That's a little hard to NOT do given the subject matter here. No "extremist" here. Just a bunch of idiots who cannot call something like it is.

RE: This guy hates his job
By gamerk2 on 5/27/2012 3:35:52 AM , Rating: 4
Actually, he's one of the most conservative members of the NY state senate; he's a typical Upstate Republican.

Heck, he was BACKED by the Tea Party during his election. Hardly meets the marker of a "progressive" Republican.

RE: This guy hates his job
By room200 on 5/27/2012 10:28:31 AM , Rating: 3
That doesn't fit the narrative of reclaimer77 and others, so it will therefore be ignored. LOL

RE: This guy hates his job
By Reclaimer77 on 5/28/2012 8:09:50 AM , Rating: 1
"Most conservative" in NY senate just means he's not a flaming liberal. He's still a moderate to "progressive" Republican. He might have been the least liberal option. But a Conservative? Ha!

And the Tea Party doesn't have a crystal ball. All too often people will sing the Conservative song as a Republican to get in office *cough Bush cough* , only to become an entirely different politician once elected.

he's a typical Upstate Republican.

Exactly. I'm sorry but what's the argument here? I've been saying the whole time that he's a typical Upstate Republican!! The only way you even get elected there in the first place is to be progressive.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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