Cyber-bullying bill may threaten anonymous speech in New York
By Alice Cheng
In an attempt to combat cyber-bullying, a bill entitled the Internet Protection Act has been proposed in New York, requiring New York-based websites to “remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post.” The bill would allow those who are bullied or defamed online to take action to remove material. However, the bill only applies to anonymous comments. It would also allow business owners the right question negative online service and product reviews.
Although this statute was presumably created with good intentions, it also comes with serious First Amendment and privacy concerns. Website administrators would have the right to request that the anonymous users attach their names to the post, and must also verify the accuracy of their IP address, legal name, and home address. This appears to clash with the conceptions most have regarding the rights to online privacy and anonymous speech.
The right to anonymous Internet speech, while not absolute, is nevertheless protected by the First Amendment. Protection is extended so long as the speaker is not involved in tortious or criminal conduct. Additionally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity for Internet Service Providers (read: websites, blogs, listservs, forums, etc.) who publish information provided by others, so long as they comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (“DMCA”) and take down content that infringes the intellectual property rights of others.