Unclear on the First Amendment in Albany

by Walter Olson on May 10, 2012

More than two dozen members of the New York state assembly, including nearly half its GOP members, have signed on to a flagrantly unconstitutional bill that would empower complainants to force the takedown of anonymous online speech by claiming to have been victimized by it. To avoid takedown, the website sponsor would have to disclose information about the authorship of the supposedly offensive post including the writer’s name and home address. Eugene Volokh:

Nor would this be limited to comments that allegedly libel someone, or even insult someone (though that would be bad enough), despite all the talk of preventing cyber-bullying by the bill’s backers. Rather, the law would apply any time anyone makes a “request” that a comment be removed, even if the comment doesn’t mention anyone by name but is simply religiously or politically offensive to the “request[er].” The same would apply to anonymous material added to Wikipedia, if Wikipedia were found to be subject to New York jurisdiction, anonymous videos posted to YouTube, and so on.

The sponsors of the bill claim that it is part of a legislative effort against “cyber-bullying.” Scott Greenfield’s post has the best headline: “New York to Publius: You’re Done, Bully-Boy.” Related on “cyber-bullying” here (& welcome Above the Law readers).

{ 3 trackbacks }

Cyberbullying and Bullying Used As Pretexts for Censorship
05.11.12 at 1:32 pm
NY legislature passes unconstitutional cyber-bullying bill | Popehat
05.16.12 at 9:07 am
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05.25.12 at 12:45 am


1 Hugo S. Cunningham 05.10.12 at 12:35 pm

I might be somewhat open to such a disclosure law (strictly limited to libel plaintiffs), but only if it activated a tough anti-SLAPP law, making plaintiffs *and* their lawyers jointly and severally liable for defendant’s legal and other expenses in cases of truthful or otherwise protected (eg “opinion”) speech.

2 Mike B 05.10.12 at 1:32 pm

Terrifying. While no one likes Trolls or cyber-bullies, there is a very slippery slope here on totalitarianism. Free-speech protects a free republic. Silencing free speech sets up an abusive, arogant government.

3 No Name Guy 05.10.12 at 6:19 pm

Unclear on the First Amendment in Albany. Unclear on Private Property. Unclear on economics. Unclear on physics. Unclear on on just about everything – par for the course for politicians.

4 Robert 05.11.12 at 9:01 am

They need to get a group of “battered women” to weep before the State Assembly on how lack of anonymity hurts their ability to discuss their abusive men from the comfort of their safehouses! That would throw a monkey-wrench into the proceedings!

(About 30 years ago, CA was debating “caller ID”. On the “pro” side, were women’s groups who claimed that “caller ID” would help them avoid phone calls from harassers. On the “anti” site were women’s groups who claimed that “caller ID” would hurt their ability to live in a “safe house” and be able to contact their abuser. Here’s a reference from the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/03/15/nyregion/popularity-of-caller-id-service-alarms-women-s-groups.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm )

5 VMS 05.11.12 at 8:16 pm

Time to tor up: https://www.torproject.org/

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