Eliminating Internet Privacy & Anonymous Posting In NY – Bills S.6779 and A.8688

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Bill S6779 is a new proposed law in NY introduced by Sen. Thomas F. O’Mara (R-Big Flats). It was written by O’Mara and LI Assemblyman, Dean Murray.

It seeks to amend civil rights law (that’s right, civil rights law) to protect people from anonymous posters by limiting free speech. “Apparently, it has now become a civil right to know what your neighbor thinks of Barack Obama, the United Nations, or Jerry’s House of Pancakes,” as  Joe Miller of Alaska has stated.

Bill S6779 is a measure that would force users to post (and verify) their home address, IP address, and legal name in any post they make online. This, despite the fact that there are many good reasons to post anonymously – people seeking help, political posters avoiding death threats, others whose jobs would be at risk and so on.

The bill states –

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.

That’s right; New York is considering laying waste to privacy and anonymous speech in the name of “preventing” online bullying.

It’s unclear exactly how much support the bill has in the State Senate though there are some surprisingly reasonable people signing on. I hope they find religion soon.

Via Daily Tech

Daily Tech:  …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.

The stated purpose of the Act is “…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 Murray and O’Mara, passage of the Act would “…cut down on cyberbullying, protect small businesses such as restaurants from unfounded, negative reviews and, naturally, protect politicians from baseless, derogatory attacks during campaign time.” As one wag added, “I’m sure that last concern is only an afterthought.”

The contempt displayed by the nation’s politicos for the constitutionally protected rights of the American public seems to increase with each passing year. Some believe pressure brought to bear by Tea Parties or the occasional primary upset of a longtime incumbent will sort out political hacks like Murray and O’Mara. But so arrogant are these self-important law makers that even decisions of the Supreme Court are blissfully ignored.

“Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind,” wrote Justice Hugo Black in 1960. Thirty five years later, the Court found unconstitutional an Ohio statute demanding campaign literature include the name and address of the individual issuing it.

Daily Tech is wrong about the Tea Party. Most of them are opposed as well. Tea Party want bills to be constitutional and protect the Bill of Rights.

Senate bill 6779 has a companion bill in the Assembly, The Internet Protection Act A 8688 “which provides that a web site administrator shall remove any comments posted upon request unless the poster agrees to attack his or her name to the post.

I can see this increasing harassment cases. With both of these bills, anyone who doesn’t like any comment, especially those regarding political causes, can demand the posters name and violate the anonymous posters right to privacy.

Both laws define an anonymous poster in the same way and it could mean anyone as one of our writers, Desiree Moore, pointed out. It is, by the lawmakers own written words – any individual who posts. Don’t think this wording isn’t deliberate –

(A) ANONYMOUS POSTER IS ANY INDIVIDUAL WHO POSTS A MESSAGE ON A WEB SITIE INCLUDING SOCIAL NETWORKS, BLOGS, FORUMS, MESSAGE BOARS OR ANY OTHER DISCUSSION SITE WHERE PEOPLE CAN HOLD CONVERSATIONS IN THE FORM OF POSTED MESSAGES.

First Amendment defenders on Facebook started a page to Stop bills 6779 and 8688

From Techland –

Wired noticed the bills on Tuesday (May 22nd 2012) and immediately pointed out the disparity between the legislation’s tenets and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates:

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.

While the First Amendment doesn’t specify anonymous speech, the Electronic Frontier Foundations notes that the U.S. Supreme Court “has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment.” Consider the  Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission (1995), says the EFF, in which the Court ruled that an Ohio statute prohibiting “campaign literature that does not contain the name and address of the person or campaign official issuing the literature” was unconstitutional. Noting that ”[the] decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one’s privacy as possible,” the Court wrote:

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.

Jump three decades further back to Talley v. California (1960), a Court case involving a similar Los Angeles ordinance relating to handbills (fliers) and a requirement that they include the full names and addresses of sponsors (the Court voided the ordinance). Writing for the Court, Justice Black noted:

Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.

Moreover, Black noted that the Federalist Papers, “written in favor of the adoption of our Constitution, were published under fictitious names,” i.e. had anonymous speech been unlawful at the time, authors Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay would have been forced to disclose their real names (or the Papers would perhaps have simply remained unpublished)

“It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes,” concluded Black.

So the proposed New York legislation is a head-scratcher. Wired notes that it stems from an attempt to combat cyber-bullying, referencing an opinion piece by New York Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte, who argues the bill would “[turn] the spotlight on cyber-bullies by forcing them to reveal their identity or have their post removed.” And Betabeat reports that the bill started with New York Assemblyman Dean Murray, who was himself anonymously accused of domestic violence toward his ex-wife and son in 2010. “The thing that disturbed me the most about it was, once everything was proven false, there was no way to get the comments down,” said Murray. “The important thing here is to give the victims a voice and an opportunity to protect themselves.”

Good intentions or no, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh tells The Daily Caller that the bill won’t pass Constitutional muster, referencing the Talley v. California case and noting that there’s already precedent for unmasking libelous commenters. “If you say something anonymously and it is libelous, I could go to court for an order to identify you,” he told TDC.

Click here to contact Thomas O’Mara, Dean Murray and all the Legislators Attached to These Bills

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