Excerpts from a May 22, 2012 Wired.com article
No votes on the measures have been taken. But unless the First Amendment is repealed, they stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved.
Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte said the legislation would cut down on “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks” and “turns the spotlight on cyberbullies by forcing them to reveal their identity.”
Had the internet been around in the late 1700s, perhaps the anonymously written Federalist Papers would have to be taken down unless Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay revealed themselves.
“This statute would essentially destroy the ability to speak anonymously online on sites in New York,” said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology. He added that the legislation provides a “heckler’s veto to anybody who disagrees with or doesn’t like what an anonymous poster said.”
Sen. Thomas O’Mara, a Republican who is also sponsoring the measure, said it would “help lend some accountability to the internet age.”
The Senate and Assembly measures, which are identical, cover messages on social networks, blogs, message boards or “any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.”
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May 23, 2012 Mashable article Lawmakers Call for an End to Internet Anonymity
Should the bills pass, any Internet user could call up a toll-free number that websites would be required to set up to handle such grievances. Anonymous web users would then have but a single recourse to save their posts if such a compliant is lodged against them: unmask completely by revealing their name and going through an identification process.
Should they refuse, the post must be deleted within 48 hours.
“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,” reads the draft legislation, identical versions of which have been introduces in both chambers of New York’s legislature.
State Senator Thomas O’Mara, who introduced the bill in the New York State Senate, told Mashable that his motivation is entirely to “deal with the issue of cyberbullying.”
“Cyberbullying and bullying in general is something that I think is exacerbated by the use of the Internet and the ability to get a claim or an accusation out to a mass of people quickly and anonymously that may be of a bullying sort, or contain untrue accusations,” said O’Mara. “This legislation is an attempt to do something about that.”
O’Mara has not spoken to any website hosts about the legislation, nor does he consider the idea a violation of the First Amendment.
“I’ll be taking comments from web hosts and on the First Amendment into consideration,” said O’Mara. “By no means is this an attempt to infringe upon the First Amendment. I don’t think hosts of websites want to be in a position of fostering false or unsubstantiated information, and I want to work with all interests on the bill.”
Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, disagrees.
“The law is clearly unconstitutional,” said Opsahl. “The right to speak anonymously is part of the First Amendment and has been since the founding of this country. In fact, some of the founding documents of the country were originally written as part of the Federalist Papers, which some of our founding fathers wrote anonymously under pseudonyms. Since then, the Supreme Court has routinely held up the legality of speaking anonymously.”
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.
Representative Couch says he filed the bill in hopes of cutting down on online bullying. He says that has especially been a problem in his Eastern Kentucky district.
Couch on Wednesday readily acknowledged that his bill raises First Amendment issues regarding free speech, so he won't be pushing it. But he wanted to call attention to the phenomenon of unkind and often untrue comments about people being posted online by Kentuckians hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.
"Some nasty things have been said about high school kids in my district, usually by other kids," Couch said. "The adults get in on it, too." Couch said he, too, has been the subject of anonymous online roasting, and while he doesn't enjoy it, he doesn't think there's much the legislature can do about it.
March 2006 - Internet civility bill stalled
"Assemblyman [Republican] Peter Biondi and his staff said they were trying to curb malicious exchanges on some local discussion boards when they introduced a bill requiring people to provide their real names and addresses before posting on public Web sites. The bill also stated that hosts could be sued for failing to disclose the identities of people disseminating false or defamatory information.
[Biondi's Chief of Staff Scott] Ross said Biondi and his staff were responding to requests from local constituents who complained about the viciousness of local discussion boards littered with name-calling. They were shocked that the bill – drafted to bring decorum to Internet discussions – drew an intense response from Internet users far beyond the Garden State's boundaries.
Critics said the law would be unconstitutional and impossible to enforce. Ross said he can see things from their perspective, but he still believes people should maintain civility online. Biondi is anticipating a legal opinion from his state legislature's nonpartisan research division by the end of this week.
February 2007 Toledo Talk discussion about a Michael Miller Toledo Free Press column opposing anonymous Internet postings.
March 2012 comment about the myth of real name policies creating more civil online discussions.