If you are a regular reader here, you may know that I live in a Massachusetts town that could be hosting an Indian Casino someday. As I'm sure you can imagine, feelings run high on this subject: most townspeople either want the casino or don't care either way, but there is a loud minority who sees it as dangerous and destructive (I'm on the "pro-casino" side, if it matters to you).
Because of the high running emotions, there have been strident letters to local newspapers and many, many blog and message board postings on both sides of the issue. Some of these postings from the "anti's" have crossed the line and might be considered libelous - some have even been interpreted as threats. It's been pretty nasty..
Because of this, some folks on the "pro" side have taken up the issue of Internet anonymity (the postings mentioned have been anonymous). They want to form a group to push for legislation to prevent anonymity on the Internet.
I understand their frustration. Anonymous attacks on a person's reputation and business can be very disturbing. Nonetheless, legislation would be a very bad idea.
Aside from the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently protected anonymity as necessary in a free society, the technological challenges would make this impossible to enforce. Even weak efforts at cloaking that could be penetrated would require considerable effort, and that would mean that law enforcement would be unlikely to devote resources to it except in extreme cases. So in addition to being philosophically opposed, I think these laws would be impractical.
Free speech CAN be unpleasant.. that's really the point of it, isn't it? We don't need free speech to tell George Bush he's doing a wonderful job - we need it to do exactly the opposite.
If people had to prove their identity before posting anything, what would corporate or government whistle-blowers do? They'd have to keep their mouths shut - that's why we don't want this sort of law.
As for supposed damage to reputations, I think it's overblown. We all know the phrase "Consider the source" - anonymous sources are always heavily discounted. But even if some fraction of readers do believe the libel, I still think that protecting free speech is more important than any damage caused.
By the way, all ISP's will fight this tooth and nail also, although for more selfish reasons. Their influence on legislators would be tremendous. The ACLU will oppose, and I expect most Republican conservatives will also. You'd have an uphill battle all the way (and almost certainly get struck down by the Supreme Court if you got that far).
So, I'm against this on technical, philosophical and practical grounds. I won't support any efforts toward legislation and in fact will actively oppose such.
A good write-up on the history of law in this are is at PRESERVING ANONYMITY ON THE INTERNET. I really recommend reading that if you are still thinking such laws are justified.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2009-11-07 Anthony Lawrence
Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you're as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it? (Brian Kernighan)