New York’s Attack on Anonymous Commenters Smacks of DISCLOSE Lite
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If one New York state senator has his way, free speech will go the way of New Coke and Bill Cosby’s sweaters – a distant memory.
Bill S6779, introduced in the New York State Senate on March 21, 2012 by Senator Thomas F. O’Mara, would require website administrators to collect personal information from posters who wish to remain anonymous. If the anonymous poster refuses to give up the required personal information, the website administrator would be responsible for deleting all of the anonymous poster’s comments.
O’Mara claims that his legislation is intended to curtail the recent wave of online bullying that has been plaguing communities across the nation. A worthy and noble cause to be sure.
But as the Center for Competitive Politics points out, there might be another, less altruistic reason behind the bill.
“….statements by the bill’s sponsor reveal the underlying self-interest that makes the agenda for such sweeping legislation clear. State Assemblyman Jim Conte released a statement saying:
…the legislation will help cut down on the types of mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate and merely seek to falsely tarnish the opponent’s reputation by using the anonymity of the Web. By removing these posts, this bill will help to ensure that there is more accurate information available to voters on their prospective candidates, giving them a better assessment of the candidates they have to choose from.”
So, wait -- Is this about schoolyard bullies or petulant politicians who don’t like their records to be questioned in a public forum?
As CCP Legal Director Allen Dickerson said in a letter to Senator O’Mara and Assemblyman Dean Murray:
“Attempting to unmask all internet users is more than just a waste of time; it is an affront to the civil liberties of all New Yorkers.. Disagreeing with an anonymous person on the internet does not entitle one to that person’s personal information, and for good reason. Further justifying political disclosure measures as anti-bullying legislation does not change the fact that the Supreme Court has already ruled on this matter.”
Honestly, this bill sounds a little bit like DISCLOSE Lite. Same not-so-great taste as the original, and twice the censorship. Let’s hope this bill suffers the same fate as New Coke and just fizzles out.