Last week, I noticed the somewhat comical, but very scary story of Kentucky lawmaker, Tim Couch, who filed a bill this week to make anonymous postings to the Internet illegal. The bill would target website providers who allowed anonymous postings, not those that submit anonymous postings.
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.
Today, I noticed a post from Fresh Creation highlighting a panel discussion on “Sexual Privacy Online”. The key question, “do you have a right to be anonymous”, is one I have posed to my students in the past. It is a tricky question, and even with a discussion of real problems posed by anonymity, I have yet to be convinced that the right to be anonymous is something we should easily give up. Watch the video and see what you think.
So after watching this, what are your thoughts about anonymity as a right? Are there places that you feel that this should not apply? And if so, how do you decide? Who decides? Watch out for the slippery slope.
I think that doing away with anonymity puts us on a slippery slope… one that we wouldn’t get a chance to recover from, should we change our minds. Now I’m hardly an expert, but it seems to me the tools that would be used to prevent anonymity would actually put out a lot more information than even those who use their real names would want available.
We should also consider the fact that anonymity has been around for a long time, and people will always find a way to shield their identity if they so choose. Letters clipped from magazines, face masks, bricks thrown through windows… Humanity has a long-standing tradition of making yourself known without making yourself vulnerable. An anonymous voice is still a voice. Does this protection sometimes cause people to say and do things they might not have otherwise? Absolutely. But sometimes (sadly, more not than often) those things need to be said, and losing that would be dangerous.
Now I realize that I haven’t actually answered the question. Is anonymity a right? I think that the point is moot. People will find a way around this one if they want to.
ISPs can and have uncovered the real identities of anonymous posters, for example when served with a court order in the case of persons posting libelous or threatening material. I’ve long held that there’s no such thing as privacy online – anyone (also read as, any government agency or any private enterprise) with sufficient means and motivation can suss out the identity and trail of anyone who leaves a digital footprint.
It’s that “means and motivation” bit that’s the sticking point. The police have the means to bust down your door in the middle of the night, but their motivation is limited by a) your behavior and b) (in the US at least) the US Constitution (and the long history of SCOTUS rulings on the 4th and 9th Amendments – see http://www.usconstitution.net/constnot.html#privacy ).
“If anonymous internet posts are outlawed, only outlaws will post anonymously.”
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I believe that the First Amendment guarantees our freedom of speech and implicit in that is the freedom of anonymous speech. In researching this a bit, here are some interesting precedents:
Let’s hope this legislation doesn’t pass, but if it does, it should be overturned.
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