N.Y. State Senate Bill Would Prohibit Anonymous Blog Posts

From the New York State Senate Committee on Ill-Conceived Ideas: a bill to require the removal of anonymous comments from Internet blogs. The title of New York Senate Bill 6779 is”An ACT to amend the civil rights law, in relation to a person’s right to know who is behind anonymous Internet posting.”See also N.Y. Assembly Bill A08688. In relevant part, the senate bill provides as follows:

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.

The U.S. Supreme Court determined decades ago that freedom of speech, as protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, includes the right of anonymous speech. See, e.g., Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60 (1960), and Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc., 525 U.S. 182 (1999). The Court has reasoned that “[a]nonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority,” that serves the First Amendment’s purpose of “protect[ing] unpopular individuals from retaliation – and their ideas from suppression – at the hand of an intolerant society.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995). The Court confirmed, in Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997), that speech on the Internet is entitled to no less protection than speech in other contexts.

Of course, the right of anonymous speech is not absolute and does not mean that one can engage in anonymous online defamation and expect to escape liability by remaining unknown. A wealth of case law has developed over the last 15 years, in which courts have dealt with cases of alleged online defamation by anonymous or pseudonymous commentators. In many of these cases, courts have directed Internet service providers to disclose the identities of anonymous posters. Thus the pending New York legislation–which has not yet been voted on–seems almost certainly to be both unconstitutional and unnecessary. For more information about the proposed New York law, see “The New York Bill that Would Ban Anonymous Online Speech,” Time (May 24, 2012).

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