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Comment: Re:There is another possibility too.. (Score 1) 186 186

International law firm ReedSmith weighs in on this point as well: '[O]nce the Department begins to audit and assess customers located within the city, many of those customers are likely to demand that providers collect the tax going forward. As a result, many providers will likely feel the need to register to collect the taxes, despite lacking nexus, and despite having strong arguments against the Department’s expansive interpretation of its taxing ordinances.'"

International law firm ReedSmith does not appear to have had experience with New Hampshire. When Massachusetts leans on providers who operate in both states to collect Massachusetts sales tax when a Massachusetts resident buys something in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire legislature leans back, making such reporting by the New Hampshire branches illegal.

Some years ago Massachusetts stationed an observer near the parking lot of a New Hampshire liquor store. He would write down the Massachusetts license plates of cars in the lot and relay them to a state trooper just across the state border. When the cars reported would cross the border they would be stopped on a pretext, and fined for having untaxed liquor in the car. New Hampshire stopped this practice by busting the parking lot observer for running a numbers racket.

I predict this case will be similar. The providers will resist collecting the Chicago tax, and if Chicago leans on them, other jurisdictions will lean back.

Comment: homes are costly even without a mortgage (Score 1) 939 939

I live in a modest home in suburban New Hampshire. I've lived here over 40 years, so my mortgage is paid off. Government in New Hampshire is mostly paid for by property taxes, so I probably pay more than homeowners do in places where government has other sources of revenue. My home is worth about $350,000 and I pay a little over $8,000 per year in property taxes. In addition, maintenance, including replacing furniture, averages about $8,000 per year, and fire insurance another $1,800. The furniture replacement cost is highly variable: the average over the last few years has been about $3,500 per year but in 2013 it was less than $1000. You get that kind of fluctuation when you have an old house.

"Suburban" in New Hampshire means you have paved roads which are plowed by the town in the winter but you are not within walking distance of stores and restaurants. "Urban" means you don't need a car for shopping, and "rural" means you plow your own unpaved roads.

Comment: Re:Tax Policy Problem (Score 1) 939 939

When costs scale with the number of people and revenue doesn't, it's inevitable that zoning will end up discouraging new residential construction, particularly high density residential contruction.

This is captured by the aphorism "Trees don't send their children to school".

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

I definitely agree that the ability to make commentary anonymously is, and should be protected. I do not agree that intentionally dishonest commentary should be protected, whether it is anonymous or not.

The problem, from the point of view of the accuser, is that he does not trust the court system to judge his intentions. Even though he is honest, he fears that the powerful person he has accused will hire a skilled lawyer like Paul Bergen to persuade the court that he is lying.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

Even though I tell the truth, I am still subject to extra-judicial retaliation if someone powerful is hurt by the truth.

Not via libel laws, you're not. And that's what this discussion is about. In the U.S., truth is often described as an "absolute defense" against libel.

Perhaps I misapprehended the subject of the discussion. I was discussing the value of anonymity when issuing accusations.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

In any case, even if malice were certain, I do not think it is a good idea to unmask anonymous speakers, even if a court decides that the plantiff would likely prevail in a defamation suit. I feel that the privilege of anonymous criticism of the powerful is precious to our freedom, and I would rather let 1000 liars go unpunished than chill the speech of one Deep Throat.

But this is what I have already said several times: anonymous criticism IS perfectly legal. It's anonymous LIBEL that is not. Criticize all you want, as long as you are telling the truth. But you don't get to legally call somebody a murderer, or a pedophile, or even a thief if you know it isn't true. You keep failing to make the distinction between real criticism and lies.

Even though I tell the truth, I am still subject to extra-judicial retaliation if someone powerful is hurt by the truth.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

But again, why should you be able to tell lies about people anonymously? What is the reason?

You should be able to tell the truth anonymously, all you like, with no repercussions. And guess what? Legally, you are. But you still haven't explained to me why you should be able to lie.

Why should there be a different standard for anonymous speech than there is for any other speech? Why should you be given a pass for dishonestly damaging someone's reputation? What possible societal benefit is there to that? I don't see one.

If you tell lies about other people publicly, no matter how much you may dislike them, you should fear retaliation. You have injured that person. And that injury can sometimes be very severe.

But again, as long as you stick to the truth, you are covered. The truth is a defense against libel.

It is all too easy for powerful people to persuade the courts and the public that their detractors are evil, and should be outed (if anonymous) and punished. That is the fear that causes accusers to try to remain anonymous. Even if an accusation can be proven true, that will not defend you against extra-legal retaliation from the powerful person, unless the truth is so damning that he loses his power.

It is not the ability to lie that I am defending; that is just a consequence of defending the ability to speak the truth without fear of retaliation from those who are hurt by the truth.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

See? The law isn't as bad as you seemed to think it is. People don't get to break another's anonymity in court for no reason. They first have to show that they would likely prevail in their defamation suit first.

That's the law's way of ensuring that anonymous speech is legitimate, but only to the same legal extent that any other speech is legitimate.

I think your circular argument gives the court too much credit. You assume that there must have been a showing of malice because that is required to prevail against a public figure, and decide that because the court granted the action, there must have been a showing of malice.

Perhaps I am reading the document incorrectly, but it seems to me that the court granted the unmasking action based on the speech having been a factual accusation that Bill Hadley had broken the law. I don't see the question of malice being addressed explicitly in the document, though since it references section 2-615 malice might be covered there.

In any case, even if malice were certain, I do not think it is a good idea to unmask anonymous speakers, even if a court decides that the plantiff would likely prevail in a defamation suit. I feel that the privilege of anonymous criticism of the powerful is precious to our freedom, and I would rather let 1000 liars go unpunished than chill the speech of one Deep Throat.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

Look... there have been many legal cases over this issue. Let's say you're a public figure. If the circumstances amount to strong evidence that there is actual malice involved (which does happen sometimes), then the injured party can get information subpoenaed in order to find out who said it. Legally, it's all based on reasonable levels of evidence, not just some ability to willy-nilly subpoena anyone you want.

There was a case in the news not long ago, in fact it was mentioned here on Slashdot. (I'm not going to take the time to look it up, though.) After seeing the evidence, the judge ruled that the plaintiff was likely able to show genuine malice, and so agreed to issue a subpoena for information about who the individual was. If the judge had found insufficient evidence of malice, he would not have issued the subpoena.

In this case, though, the standard for breaching anonymity was that the accuser stated as a matter of fact that the accused had committed a crime. See paragraph 26 of the decision, which is liked to from the story. I think that standard is far too low.

Here's a hypothetical example: the writer says, "I'm doing this because I think you're a low-life hateful/awful/dangerous person." (As opposed to, say, "I have evidence you've actually done something wrong.") Or "I'm doing this because you seduced my wife", etc. So for this example, a personal vendetta of some kind. If the statements are false, and the writer admitted that it was done for personal reasons, or personal gain of some kind, that's generally evidence of malice.

But again the point is: there has to be evidence before a subpoena my be legally issued.

A person who has inside information about nefarious deeds, but who is, because of his position, vulnerable to retaliation, should be able to speak anonymously.

They can. The law allows them to. What the law does not allow, is malicious, defamatory speech. As long as you're telling the truth, there is generally nothing to fear: truth is a near-absolute defense against libel. But if you're lying, and especially you're lying for opinion-based or selfish reasons, you'd better watch out.

That's the way it is. And frankly, that's the way it should be.

As long as you are telling the truth, and can prove it, you have nothing to fear from the law. There are other forms of retaliation, though, such as losing your job or being shunned by your friends. I don't think Deep Throat would have spoken out about Watergate if he could not have been assured of anonymity. By the standard that this court applied, Nixon could have filed an action to seek his accuser's identity, since he was accused of breaking the law.

If an anonymous accuser provides evidence enough to prove that his allegations are truthful without his testimony, then there is no need to unmask him. If he doesn't, he can be ignored.

I think that the cost of being lied about anonymously and not being able to punish the liar, is less than the cost of being unable to accuse a powerful person of having committed a crime while remaining anonymous to avoid retaliation.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

Quite the opposite. It was run by every major news outlet. It was dinner table talk at my friends house. It was discussed at work. And in general it has gotten a boat load of coverage for something very unsubstantiated.

I'm not saying everyone in the public agreed. They most certainly did not, and given my observer bias of cynical and skeptical people I hang out with I would say most of them didn't believe the story. But that's not the problem, the problem is that this has gotten lip service AT ALL. If something is unsubstantiated then why would it be run by every major news outlet? Why would there be an hour long session on the topic by talk show radios?

People in general have short memories and it doesn't take long to confuse them. That is exactly why public relations campaigns are so effective. You can ruin someone based on nothing very easily, as anyone who has been accused of stalking children on Facebook can attest to. Your common sense does not protect a reputation from public perception.

I think the cynical and skeptical people you hang out with are more representative of the general public than you credit. The issue is covered by the media because it gets them attention. They don't care about the truth, they care about getting people to listen to their advertisements.

Yes, it is possible to ruin someone with a completely untruthful public relations campaign. However, forbidding anonymous speech doesn't prevent that. Even if it is well known who is telling the lies, and even if he is sued in court for defamation and is convicted, the damaging allegations are still out there, and still causing harm. Indeed, a court case might increase the harm by causing more people to become aware of the lies.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

What you're overlooking is that the unmasking is coming after the court has essentially already declared that the speech in question is defamatory (which isn't a protected class of speech). There have been appeals, the anonymous person has sent lawyers to appeal on multiple occasions (which does make one doubt the "it's some random yahoo" hypothesis - Timmy's parents aren't likely to be footing the bills for lawyers to protect his identity). Reading the ruling, it's pretty clear that Mr. X has effectively *had* his day in court, and the judges are basing this ruling on the fact that they believe the posts in questions to be defamatory.

So the system is working pretty much as intended - "Fuboy" (the alias of the person who posted) has had his identity protected through the entire process, and only after substantial judicial review (which includes the judges deciding if the case has merit and a reasonable chance of success - read: it's actually defamation), has authorized revealing the name. Not to mention that at each step, he's had the ability (and has availed himself) of legal representation to attempt to quash the subpoena.

To your root point, I agree that anonymous speech is valuable. But part of that value is that it can't be used as a shield to hide behind when doing actually illegal things.

I overlooked it because, like the typical slashdotter, I hadn't read the opinion until now. Notice in paragraph 26 that the court is concerned about the constitutional right of anonymous speech. Apparently, any statement that can reasonably be construed as accusing someone of committing a crime triggers the loss of anonymity. I don't think that is good enough. Paragraph 26 also hints that other courts apply a stricter standard, so apparently there is not uniformity on this rule. I advocate a much higher standard: no matter what is said, the privilege of anonymity is absolute.

Here is a hypothetical example to illustrate my point. A person using the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood writes a comment on the web site of the New England Courant in response to a story about the Queen of England, calling her a tyrant. Tyranny is, of course, a crime, so this comment accuses a person of a crime. The local representative of the Queen files a rule 224 petition to learn the name of the accuser. The court rules that the statement is defamation and outs Benjamin Franklin.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

Why should you be allowed to intentionally make false, damaging statements about somebody? Anonymously or otherwise? Current law says you don't have the right to do that, and I agree with the law.

Do you think it's okay to "anonymously" shoot somebody with a gun, or "anonymously" run over them with a car? If not, why should you be allowed to injure them any other way anonymously? It makes no sense.

As for "the powerful", if you are a "public figure" you have to show actual malice before you may demand reparations. Because as a public figure, there must be room for the public to comment about your actions.

But that's already the law.

I distinguish between speech, on the one hand, and shooting or running over someone, on the other hand, because speech is important to society. Our laws protect people who say things that are offensive, because sometimes the ability to speak freely is an important defense against tyrrany.

As long as a speaker remains anonymous, it is difficult to say whether there is "actual malice" involved. The only evidence we have is the words he wrote. If a public figure can out an anonymous speaker to determine whether or not there was "actual malice", the damage is done.

A person who has inside information about nefarious deeds, but who is, because of his position, vulnerable to retaliation, should be able to speak anonymously.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

Unjust accusations perhaps used to time out, but they don't now. If your name is linked with child molestation now, on the web, it will be so linked essentially forever. Your only recourse may be to change your name.

Also, you're willing to lose out on a job. Are you willing to lose out on job after job? In any field where the number of applications is greater than the hiring authorities are willing to deal with, doing a quick Google search for every applicant and throwing out the applications when coming up with anything unfavorable is going to be tempting. Employers aren't worried about being fair to the people applying for jobs. They're worried about not getting an incompetent or somebody who's going to disrupt the office or cause serious problems.

Similarly, if customers Google you, you may lose too many of them. If you're working in a customer contact position, your employer may be forced to dismiss you because you're losing too many customers. If you're self-employed, your business may fall off.

I'm not worried about your friends. Either they'll realize that the accusations were false, or they're not worth keeping. I'm worried about your ability to get and hold a good job.

The ability to track down the alleger and sue him or her isn't a perfect solution, but it's better than being able to do nothing about being anonymously maligned.

Yes, you are right. The consequences to the individual of being unjustly maligned are severe. I think you may overestimate the harm in the case of an employee in a customer contact position, but even so the consequences can be harsh. However, by the time we have to choose whether or not to force an anonymous accuser to reveal himself, the damage is done: the linkage is out there for anyone to find. The ability to track down the accuser and sue him doesn't undo that; it might even make the accusation more prominent. That is why I feel that the ability to penetrate anonymity is not worth the cost to society.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

Doesn't filing a court case do even more than a denial to make the original allegation more prominent?

Short term yes, long term no.

Making a denial is less noise now, but leaves the floor open for our little whisperer to continue throwing allegations around. That's what whisper campaigns and echo chambers are, after all - a continual drip of unsourced comments and allegations, until it becomes something common knowledge that everyone has heard somewhere.

A lawsuit brings attention to useful facts - that the commenter is anonymous (and thus Not Respectable), which damps down the early trouble. And now that he gets a name, there's someone who has to put up or shut up (probably on camera, if Hadley is any sort of good politician). But worst case, he goes from having to defend himself against shadows to having an actual person to rebut.

But you are overlooking the harm to society. The accused is acting in his own best interests, but I feel that outing an anonymous speaker is bad for the rest of us, because future speakers, who know something important but are vulnerable to retaliation, will hesitate to speak anonymously for fear that they will be revealed. A famous case is "Deep Throat", in which the associate director of the FBI squealed on the president of the United States. I want that to continue to be possible.

Comment: Re:Bill Hadley is going to be disappointed (Score 1) 233 233

Except that now all *you're* talking about is whether you're a pedophile. And now you're on the road to "have you stopped beating your wife yet". Whisper campaigns work, unfortunately.

I don't think this even counts as "chilling free speech". Whomever this person is, they're free to repeat their claim once they're name is revealed. And if it's some punk kid in a library, that'll do far more to kill the story than anything he can do otherwise.

Presuming that he's not *actually* a child molester, getting a name to the quote is all up-side for him. Maybe it's a kid who backs down when the cameras ask him to repeat it. Or maybe it'll trace back to a political opponent, and now he's got a whole can of whoop-ass to unload.

Yes, this is all upside for the accused. However, there is a down side for society. If a powerful person who is offended by anonymous speech can penetrate the anonymity, then no anonymous speaker is safe from being revealed. Being able to engage in anonymous political speech is an important defense against tyrrany.

The conflict here is between the right of the accused to face his accuser, and the right of an accuser to remain anonymous if he wishes. I come down on the side of the anonymous accuser because I feel that anonymous political speech is important to society.

"Just think, with VLSI we can have 100 ENIACS on a chip!" -- Alan Perlis