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New York wants to ban anonymous speech online

Published time: May 23, 2012 17:09
Edited time: May 23, 2012 21:09
Reuters/Mike Segar

Reuters/Mike Segar

Lawmakers in New York State are proposing a new legislation that involves the Web, and no, it’s not SOPA-esque or another CISPA-like spy-bill. Politicians in the Empire State want to outlaw anonymous speech on the Internet.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte says that the legislation he co-sponsors, Bill no. S06779, would cut down on “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks” and “turns the spotlight on cyberbullies by forcing them to reveal their identity.”

Mean-spirited? Baseless? In other words, Mr. Conte is one of a handful of elected officials in New York wanting to make the Internet a more attractive place by ensuring that people looking to speak their mind aren’t afforded that right unless they want their personal identity exposed to the world.

The bill was proposed back in March and is described as “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.”

According to the proposed legislation, the administrator of any website hosted in New York State shall, upon request, remove comments that were “posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agreed to attach his or her name to the post and confirm that his or her IP address, legal name and home address are accurate.” Additionally, the bill calls for all website administrators to have their own contact information “clearly visible in any sections where comments are posted” to allow for irked readers to demand censorship.

If passed, the act will “help lend some accountability to the internet age,” says co-sponsor Sen. Thomas O’Mara, a Republican, who has been elected to serve the citizens of the United States yet apparently has been completely misinformed about the liberties of Americans guaranteed in the US Bill of Rights. Although most major newspapers in the United States continue to publish op-ed pieces anonymously or in a voice representative of that periodicals’ editorial department, on the Internet — where anything goes — average Americans should not be allowed that right, apparently.

Other lawmakers, including New York Assemblyman Peter Lopez (R), are also asking for more accountability on the no-man’s land that is the Internet, telling The Legislative Gazette that “a resource that is so beneficial” ought be “used properly.”

Even if a poster does confirm the authenticity of the IP address that their computer connects to the Web with, New York Eastern District federal court magistrate Judge Gary Brown ruled earlier this month that that data cannot be used solely to link a suspect to a crime, writing “a single IP address usually supports multiple computer devices – which unlike traditional telephones can be operated simultaneously by different individuals.”

That isn’t to say, though, that lawmakers elsewhere are trying to crack down on “mean-spirited” posts — earlier this year, a jury in Texas awarded $13.8 million to a couple who filed a defamation lawsuit after being insulted on the Web.

Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology, reveals that the legislation, if passed, would be damning to not just an open Internet but the First Amendment. In a statement, the CDT lawyer confirms that “This statute would essentially destroy the ability to speak anonymously online on sites in New York,” and provides a “heckler’s veto to anybody who disagrees with or doesn’t like what an anonymous poster said.”

Lawmakers in New York have yet to formally vote on the measure.

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