Proposed NY ban on anonymous posts comes under fire

Add anti-cyberbullying advocates to the growing list of critics who don't like proposed New York state legislation that would strip some people of their online anonymity.

In an attempt to combat cyberbullying, some New York state legislators want people who post mean-spirited personal attacks online to be prepared to identify themselves.

A resulting bill, known as the Internet Protection Act (IPA), wouldn't stop with cyberbullying. If it became law, the legislation would also prevent people from posting anonymous criticism of local businesses or making "baseless political attacks," wrote James Conte, a member of New York's state assembly and one of the bill's sponsors.

"With more and more people relying on social media and the Internet to communicate and gather information," Conte wrote in a statement, "it is imperative that the legislature put into place some type of safeguard to prevent people from using the Internet's cloak of anonymity to bully our children and make false accusations against local businesses and elected officials."

IPA was introduced in the New York state legislature earlier this month. The bill would require authors of attack posts to identify themselves when asked or else have their posts removed.

IPA follows the earlier introduction of a separate anti-cyberbullying bill in the NY legislature. Dave Kravets over at Wired.com, who first wrote about the issue, is skeptical that the bills can stand up to a First Amendment challenge: "Unless the First Amendment is repealed, they stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved," Kravets said.

Even some proponents of stronger cyberbullying laws are critical of IPA. Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer and founder of advocacy groups Wiredsafety and Stopcyberbulling, said stripping people of their Web anonymity would likely create more problems then it would solve.

"One of the beauties of the Internet is that you can post anonymous comments," Aftab told CNET. "It allows kids who may be abused to reach out and get help and it enables people with unpopular political views to be heard... we've been through this before. These are well-intentioned people looking for easy answers but who may not understand the unintended consequences."

Aftab said that there are already laws on the books that allow people to learn the identities of those who post anonymously if they believe crimes are thought to have been committed. People can also file civil suits and ascertain someone's identity from an Internet service provider as part of legal discovery.

 

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