Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Anonymous Comments to be Made Illegal?

A local ABC television news affiliate is reporting that Kentucky lawmaker Tim Couch has introduced legislation that would make anonymous posting online illegal. Couch has stated that his intention is to help cut down on cyberbullying, and the bill calls for several measures...

"The bill would require anyone who contributes to a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that site.

Their full name would be used anytime a comment is posted.

If the bill becomes law, the website operator would have to pay if someone was allowed to post anonymously on their site. The fine would be five-hundred dollars for a first offense and one-thousand dollars for each offense after that."

There are a few major pitfalls with this proposal. First of all, enforcement will be nearly impossible due to jurisdictional issues. Second, anonymous commentary is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Third, it would place an undue burden on website operators and hosting companies, making them legally liable for all content posted by anyone visiting their sites. Fourth, that liability would greatly hinder technological innovation and virtually destroy the emerging Web 2.0 business model.

I could keep going, but what would be the point. This is such a poorly devised piece of legislation that it has been derided publicly in media outlets ever since its inception. As a practical matter, cyberbullying doesn't stand to be affected at all by Couch's bill, and the connection between it and anonymous commentary is indirect at best, if not absent altogether.

To take away the right of anonymous commentary in cyberspace would not only violate the spirit of the First Amendment, it would also fundamentally alter the interactive nature of the internet itself. That is something the Kentucky lawmaker would be wise to consider more seriously.


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