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Old 03-08-2006, 11:45 AM   #1
FinalSolace2
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Politician wants to end Internet forum anonymity

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060307-6332.html
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Politician wants to end Internet forum anonymity

3/7/2006 2:53:54 PM, by Peter Pollack

Peter Biondi is a state assemblyman from New Jersey. He and some of his colleagues have been the subject of occasional anonymous rants on a number of web site forums, including one devoted to the Somerset County district from which Biondi hails. Biondi points out that forum discussions have degenerated to the point where meaningful discourse is buried under the din of name-calling and abuse, and has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to host a web site which allows totally anonymous or ficticious log-ins for forum purposes.

The operator of any interactive computer service or an Internet service provider shall establish, maintain and enforce a policy to require any information content provider who posts written messages on a public forum website either to be identified by a legal name and address, or to register a legal name and address with the operator of the interactive computer service or the Internet service provider through which the information content provider gains access to the interactive computer service or Internet, as appropriate.

Mr. Biondi might wish to do some reading up on how the Internet works before he introduces another bill regulating it. Free speech issues aside, passage of the law might actually affect a web site like nj.com, which is based within his state. However, there would be nothing whatsoever to prevent a someone from setting up a competing forum somewhere else in the US or the rest of the world, which would permit the same sort of anonymous rants he's trying to prevent.

Perspective is the key here. People have complained about politicians since they (the politicians, not the people) were invented. Some of those people stand on streetcorners carrying megaphones or wearing sandwich signs, others appear on CNN with Larry King. How much weight we give any of the complainers or the politicians is a personal choice, and my own Internet rule of thumb has always been that any poster who opts to remain anonymous had better supply something very intelligent to the discourse or risk being written off early on. In other words, anonymous ranters should rarely taken seriously.

There is a small subset of the population, though, that seems to live for the anonymous rant. They will post to newsgroups and forums, tearing apart the posts of others sentence-by-sentence until someone brings up Hitler, at which point the discussion will turn to Godwin's Law, which will then be similarly deconstructed until the topic peters out, only to be resurrected on another forum or newsgroup at a later time. There is no harm in this?unless one thinks it means something?and I have seen far too many people fall into the same trap that Biondi has, which in the case of a politician leads inexorably to misguided legislation.

Finally, there is the issue of free speech to consider. Courts have ruled that anonymous posters to forums and online discussion boards have a reasonable expectation of anonymity. If the forum avatar could be pulled aside at will to reveal the identity of a poster at any time, it would have a chilling effect on free speech on the Internet. While those decisions could certainly be overturned via a number of avenues, the precedent has been set, and any legislation limiting anonymity would certainly face a legal challenge on established grounds.

"A person who signs onto an anonymous forum under a pseudonym...is surely entitled to a reasonable expectation that his speech...will not be accessible to the Government...absent appropriate legal process. To hold otherwise would ignore the role of the internet as a remarkably powerful forum for private communication and association. Even the Government concedes that the internet is an 'important vehicle for the free exchange of ideas and facilitates associations.'"

So, where does that leave Peter Biondi's bill? Impractical, unconstitutional, and misguided. That's not to say it won't pass, and in fact, free speech advocates may almost hope that it does. While a state law reducing anonymity on the Internet probably won't have much practical effect, that law being overturned in a federal court would be referenced for years to come in cases across the country.
please can the world just destroy itself already.
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Old 03-08-2006, 12:01 PM   #2
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Quote:
forum discussions have degenerated to the point where meaningful discourse is buried under the din of name-calling and abuse
lol, no hes right, i think that describes the internet pretty well.
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Old 03-08-2006, 12:13 PM   #3
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Whether I'm going by my real name or a pseudonym I'm still going to be an argumentative *******.
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Old 03-08-2006, 01:18 PM   #4
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^^Amen^^

I just might not threaten to figure out where ya IP points too come to your house and smash your computer with baseball bat like I used to be fond of doing.
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Old 03-08-2006, 03:37 PM   #5
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Once this bill is passed and it goes worldwide, I plan to go to nins hosue and rid the world of his mutantness.
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Old 03-08-2006, 04:27 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by AmishNazi
^^Amen^^

I just might not threaten to figure out where ya IP points too come to your house and smash your computer with baseball bat like I used to be fond of doing.

That's why I don't upgrade my computer very often. With my personality it's a risky financial decision.
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