Republicans in New York seek to ban free speech on the internet


This article was originally published on on May 22, 2012.


Free speech is under attack by Republicans in New York. State Senator Tom O’Mara, and Assemblyman Dean Murray are currently sponsoring legislation that would disallow anonymous website postings. They claim to be doing this in the name of protecting children. Under the proposed law all who post messages on any type of forum, blog, message board or other service would be required to confirm to the website owner that their IP address, home address, and legal name are all accurate.

The official language of the law, known as Internet Protection Act S06779 is as follows:


The implications of this possible new law are vast. The First Amendment lays no stipulations on what types of speech a person is free to make. Indeed, it is a favorite saying that freedom of speech is not necessary to talk about the weather. It is necessary to protect the minority, and those who make unpopular speech. The essence of freedom of speech is to protect against undue governmental censorship. The phrase, “the tyranny of the majority” is highly appropriate.

This is to say nothing of the power of a web administrator to already have the right to remove any comments made on a website they own or operate. That is another aspect of free speech, with the owner having full reign and discretion over what they individually choose to allow on their respective forums. It is therefore absurd for Republican lawmakers to assert that this law is a necessity for something that is clearly not.

The law is even more ponderous in its seemingly deliberate vagueness. The language does not define how a website owner would be able to confirm an identity, or how one would contact a message poster in an official capacity to request such private information. It does not stipulate how long a website owner would have to contact the original message poster before the message would have be taken down. Even further the law does not stipulate punishment for non-compliance.

Curiously, the law also makes no mention of the process of which one may complain about a posting. Meaning while the law would force others who make comments to confirm their identities or risk having their messages immediately revoked, it does not ask the accuser to offer confirmation that their name, address, and IP address are real. If the spirit of the law is that of openness then surely those who have complaints should be asked for full disclosure as well.

This bill turns all website readers into website editors, able to remove any content they dislike unless a person posts their name, and confirms their identity next to it.

The law fails to lay out in even the simplest of terms as to what would qualify for removal. Is this meant to be interpreted as any post must be removed, upon request, for any reason other than a single person disapproves of it? Hypocritical small government politicians O’Mara and Murray say that it is for theprotection of those who are bullied, but bullying and harassment are not even mentioned in the official language of the law! Because of that, there is absolutely zero criteria for what could be considered harassment. The Supreme Court has presided over this question before calling it, “false misstatements of fact” and questioning “how much speech matters” as it relates to false or slanderous statements.

In a free society of which a variety of opinions exist, something that one party may find vile and harassing could seem to be normal and well within the status quo for another. This is the greatness that is free expression. Who is to be the judge of this, and what comments are or are not eligible? It would appear that government intervention would be necessary to enforce these laws, which is in direct opposition to O’Mara’s official biography of being against government bureaucracy.

Finally there is the inescapable question of if bullying were to happen between teens, who is held responsible? Is it enforceable by law to ask a 13 year old child, for example, to confirm their identity? It very well may be illegal for a variety of reasons including a minor being unable to agree to any type of contract. Will there be inquisitions to parents whose children are found to have been behaving in a bullying manner? Will we find that malicious person’s use the IP addresses of unsuspecting victims, so the blame is laid at their feet rather than to the people who deserve it?

There are many questions that neither Assemblyman Murray or Senator O’Mara have any answers for. The most that can be said about Assemblyman Murray is he posted his official stance on his Facebook page this morning at 8 AM. Below is what was published, verbatim. I do not think it is out of the realm of reasonableness to suggest to the assemblyman to spend less time attempting to take away the rights of others, and more time proof reading what it is that he publishes for the whole world to see:

Earlier this year, I introduced the Internet Protection Act, an anti-cyberbullying measure which allows the victim of an anonymous online post to request its removal unless the anonymous source attaches his or her name to it. This legislation was inspired by recent high-profile cyberbullying tragedies. In one instanceThere has been a disturbing increase in instances, where a young girl from Long Islandperson committed suicide followingafterthe cruel anonymous online postings about her. This young womanleft them feelting as if she hadthere was no other no way outalternative. This anti-cyberbullying bill would give her andthe countless otherthe countless victims of bullying a chance to save their reputation from these cowardly attacks.

This is not about policing opinions; this is about empowering the victims of deliberately malicious attacks with the means to preserve their reputation and dignity. Simply put, if you are willing to make hurtful claims about someone, you should own up to it and attach your name.