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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

Comments     Threshold

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This bill would change the Net for the better
By Beenthere on 5/26/2012 11:41:30 AM , Rating: -1
People would no longer be able to post character assassination without punishment from the courts for libel - which is excellent IMO.

RE: This bill would change the Net for the better
By Solandri on 5/26/2012 12:20:41 PM , Rating: 2
Except it wouldn't. If the U.S. were to require all webmasters to link posts to a real name and ID, the American hosting services would all go out of business. Everyone would move their hosting to foreign servers without such a requirement. (The whole point of running a web server is to let the computer deal with it. Webmasters won't want to waste time verifying everyone's ID when they can just move the server offshore.)

If you tried to prevent Americans from accessing sites hosted on foreign servers, then you've become China. If you tried to prevent Americans from hosting sites on foreign servers, then you've become worse than China.

Anonymity is like AIDS and nukes. The genie is out of the bottle and there's no putting it back. You just have to deal with it.

By Initium on 5/26/2012 8:58:23 PM , Rating: 2
Actually it would be a boon to the companies and individuals running the servers because they could then sell the information to marketers.

By Reclaimer77 on 5/26/2012 12:49:33 PM , Rating: 2
What is wrong with you? I hope this wasn't serious.

RE: This bill would change the Net for the better
By Beenthere on 5/26/12, Rating: 0
By Reclaimer77 on 5/26/2012 6:00:53 PM , Rating: 2
Oh give it a rest. I mean please. If you want to apply libel rules to the Internet, the entire thing would have to be shut down.

The Internet gives both parties equally free speech. If someone says something that you think is false, a simple blog post or Tweet can be used to give the facts.

If you open this Pandoras Box and attempt to regulate speech under the guise of libel laws and destroying anonymity, you're a flaming idiot if you think it will stop there and the power won't be abused. The Internet as we know it will be irrevocably censored and altered.

By Dr of crap on 5/29/2012 8:33:54 AM , Rating: 2
MAYBE you shouldn't have such a thin skin!

Really you get affended by what people MIGHT say about you on the internet??? And you believe it??? Had good parnets did you???

Hope you have a bomb shelter to live in!

By JediJeb on 5/29/2012 10:21:20 AM , Rating: 2
If you got something to say, stand up identify yourself

Seriously, your parents named you Beenthere?

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