The erosion of anonymous Internet speech
I thought that this commentary was quite interesting. Here are a couple of snippets:
“The Communications Act has prohibited the making of telephone calls or the utilization of telecommunications devices “without disclosing (one’s) identity to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications.” The same law also has been clear that the term “telecommunications device…does not include an interactive computer service.”
This means this law has not been aimed at Internet communications. Now comes the huge qualifier.
A small but important provision buried deep in last year’s Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act, which was just signed into law, now brings the reach of the above-quoted text home to the Internet. The provision in question applies to “any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet.”
What does this mean? The Communications Act provides for fines and imprisonment of up to two years for violations. But taken to a logical, if extreme, conclusion, it is possible that a person who makes a Web posting or who sends an e-mail intended simply to annoy someone else while not disclosing his or her true identity could be subject to fines and jail time.
So much for freedom of speech as well as for appropriate Internet anonymity. There is no requirement of harm to trigger the impact of this new law, and the annoyance standard raises a number of concerns.”
I am still thinking about how I feel about all of this. I am a big proponent of free speech and a believer in the marketplace of ideas, but there are limits to everything. This is a topic that I hope to revisit shortly.