State lawmakers all across the country busy at work crafting ridiculous, head-spinning laws can take the day off. There is no way they can top this.
A new bill proposed in the Illinois State Senate looks to completely wipe out any form of anonymity on the internet by requiring that the operators of basically any website on the entire internet take down any comment that isn’t attached to an IP, address, and real name-verified poster.
What do you think about anonymity of the internet? What circumstances (if any) should an internet commenter be forced to divulge their real identity? Let us know in the comments.
Here’s the summary of the bill:
Creates the Internet Posting Removal Act. Provides that a web site administrator shall, upon request, remove any posted comments posted by an anonymous poster unless the 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. Effective 90 days after becoming law.
Not wanting to leave any bases uncovered, Silverstein includes that an “Anonymous Poster” means “any individual who posts a message on a web site including social networks, blogs, forums, message boards, or any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.”
Silverstein also proposes that “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.”
Beyond the obvious questions about self-verification of IP addresses (?) and home addresses (wow), the logistics of this thing are mind-boggling at best. Any comment on any site that has commenting? That would not just include sites like CNN.com, Mashable, WebProNews and others. This could be taken to mean any type of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or large online communities like reddit and 4chan.
And what about the constitutionality angle?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that “anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse,” and that this is an idea that’s been upheld by the Supreme Court. They cite a particular decision (McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 1995):
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views…Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority…It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation…at the hand of an intolerant society.
“These long-standing rights to anonymity and the protections it affords are critically important for the Internet. As the Supreme Court has recognized the Internet offers a new and powerful democratic forum in which anyone can become a “pamphleteer” or “a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox,” says the EFF.
Of course, this isn’t the first legislative attempt to limit anonymous speech on the internet. Back in 2012, a nearly identical bill was proposed in the New York State Assembly that would’ve required site admins to restrict any comments that didn’t have “IP address, legal name, and home address” attached to the post.
Like many bills that limit free and anonymous speech, this NY bill was hidden behind a hot-button issue. In its case, cyberbullying.
“It’s an effort to deal with the problem. I’m hopeful that this will be helpful in combating that,” Sponsor Thomas O’Mara explained, “or at least get a dialog going with the industry about this concern.”
But is punishing anonymity the right course of action?
When people who have no idea how the internet actually works start drafting laws, this is what happens. This isn’t the first, nor the last bill of this type that will hit state legislatures. More than likely, this bill will never make it out of committee (it’s been referred to assignments). But the simple knowledge that this kind of thing could even exist is enough to make me want a drink.
What do you think? Is a bill like this even constitutional? Are you concerned about legislative attempts to remove anonymity from the internet? Let us know in the comments.