Another (Even More Outrageous, Unconstitutional) “Cyberbullying” Law
Following up on our post regarding the ridiculously overbroad first draft of Arizona’s new cyber harassment law, it seems the state legislature of New York has also hopped aboard the bandwagon of passing unconstitutional prior restraints on internet speech. (Where is the support for these bills coming from, anyway?) The New York bill, no. S06779, would essentially ban all anonymous online speech, requiring website administrators to remove any anonymous comments “upon request” unless the poster agrees to reveal not only his/her true name, but also home address and home IP address!
So much for the constitutional right to speak anonymously on issues of public interest, a right which the Supreme Court has affirmed multiple times (see McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission). Apparently the members of the New York legislature don’t remember their American history, either — the Federalist papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay … anonymously.
Anonymous speech is vital to the free exchange of information and ideas as enshrined in the First Amendment. It provides freedom against “the tyranny of the majority,” as explained by J.S. Mill in On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government (which the Supreme Court quotes directly in McIntyre), thus allowing for the expression of unpopular notions without fear of reprisal.
California law, in fact, provides specific protections for anonymous online speech under Code of Civil Procedure section 1987.1 and 1987.2 (provisions which CASP helped to draft and enact), which allow for an anti-SLAPP-like motion to quash any out-of-state subpoena seeking to reveal your identity for exercising your free speech rights anonymously on the internet. (For more information on that topic, see our blog post on what to do when your internet service provider tells you your information has been subpoenaed.)
Hopefully the backlash against this proposed law will be as great as the backlash against the Arizona bill, which succeeded in getting the first draft thrown out in favor of a drastically narrowed (and likely constitutional) final bill. There is no need to waste everyone’s time by enacting this New York law and waiting for a court challenge — and, in the meantime, unnecessarily chilling First Amendment rights.
UPDATE: Huffington Post’s new article on the bill has some more information on what motivated the legislators who introduced it — specifically, “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate and merely seek to falsely tarnish the opponent’s reputation by using the anonymity of the Web,” of which at least one of them, state rep. Dean Murray (R), has apparently been a victim during past runs for office. (Well, we wouldn’t want politicians’ feelings hurt just because they want to run for office. That seems worth trampling on the First Amendment.)