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Anonymity 160

acomj writes: "In a blow to "anonymous cowards" everywhere the NYTimes has a story on a court ruling anonymous speech is not a protected right. I'm a big proponent of the "consider the source" when reading anonymous posts..." The Times story covers several related cases. The typical procedure for these cases seems to be to file a suit alleging defamation, use the legal powers granted by the court to discover the identity of the speaker, then simply drop the suit and fire the speaker - the lawsuit is only a pretense. This seems like an abuse of the judicial system to me.
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Anonymous Posting Not Protected

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    sl4shd0t sl4shd0t works for sl4shd0t
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The article states "a Florida appeals court"

    This may effect florida but there are 3 SCOTUS
    rulings that state that anonymity is a right under
    the constitution! [] Privacy and Anonymity
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Here's a log / password for NY Times... asdfpiguy / asdfpiguy
  • Critics of the ruling say it could have a chilling effect on free expression in Internet chat rooms.

    Sometimes I launch my artificial intelligence bot loose on IRC. I would pay big bucks to see the face of the judge when he sees what his subpoena has uncovered!

  • It was new to me; it was apparently new to many others. Just because you have time to troll /. all the time, and have perfect recollection of every story to hit the front page, doesn't make that true of every /. reader.

    Please bear that in mind before you whine about future repeat posts.
  • Why should the identity of the writer have any bearing on whether or not the writing is libelous or defamatory?

  • So get a clue and create a login. It doesn't hurt. NYTimes will even remember your username and password for you - you make one up, falsify some details and bingo, you can read all the articles you like.

    Or you could act childishly and live in ignorance - you seem to be doing a fine job so far.


  • Regarding whistleblowers, in the UK there is a whistleblowers hotline - just ring a free-phone number from any phone and spill the beans. If the company has been acting illegally or contravening any of the myriad of UK and European employment laws then they'll get investigated and officially slapped.

    Added to that, even if the company does find out who made the call, it's illegal for them to sack you - although you'd probably be better off looking for a new job anyway if you value things like promotions and bonuses.

  • This review struck me as so much BS that I sent the following letter to the letters section at the NT Times:

    I the article "Anonymous Net Posting Not Protected" you printed "attorney Bruce Fischman hailed the ruling, saying it would force Internet users to `think a bit before they speak.'"

    Unfortunately the real problem is that people are not thinking when they read. To put any weight on an anonymous posting without verifying the information elsewhere is to step forward foolishly.

  • No, because reporting a story isn't the same as taking a particular side in the story. It would only be ironic if NYT claimed that anonymity should always be allowed, and NYT has not done that.
  • It used to be the philosophy of some ancient Athenian Greeks that the truth was anything one could convince someone else of. In many ways that's a fact today as well, regardless of whether people admit it.

    Suppose I say Nasty Statement X about CEO Joe Sixpack of Acme, Inc. and his company. I wouldn't have said X if I didn't think X was true. However Mr. Sixpack was rather annoyed that I revealed X for whatever reason and since Acme was involved, he billed the corporate lawyers (not like his own were as cheap as mine, anyway). So here we are in court "discussing" Nasty Statement X and Mr. Sixpack wins for Acme. Because he and his corporate lapdogs proved (read: convinced) a judge or a jury or whoever that X was false, when in fact I said it in truth.

    Is this not a possible scenario? Is it unlikely? No and not really. Considering the mass of wealth, influence, and "credibility" that has gilded the upper escelon of the corporate world in particular and the value they place on not having certain facts revealed... It's pretty fucking likely.

    Now, finally, is this definition of truth not what certain Athenians believed during the time of the ancient Greek democracy?
  • ... if [you] really want to engage in what is considered in the U.S. to be defamatory ...

    You can hide all you want, but you cannot escape responsibility for your actions. You have the right to free speech, but you cannot walk all over the rights of others.

    Of course, the best strategy is to always speak the truth.

  • Do courts have the right to subpoena a pseudonym's real identity *before* libel has been proven? That's what's at issue when companies use subpoena power to intimidate. Once libel is proved, it seems reasonable (in today's world, not necessarily in the future) to reveal the true identity. But when all one has to do is allege libel in order to pierce the Internet's veil of pseudonymity, it seems clear to me that the courts can be misused.

    Eventually, I would hope that for some kinds of libel or other harmful language, serious penalties can be imposed on the pseudonymous identities themselves, rather than on the real people who own them. To reach that point, pseudonyms will have to gain serious economic value. I think one could argue that some identities on Ebay already have this, based on the reputation they have earned over time. Loss of reputation and earning power for such pseuds might be a sufficient penalty in some cases. Internet identities would have come to resemble corporations in the sense of limited liability.

  • if you shout a horrible statement in a crowd should a lawsuit be allowed? now, since there did happen to be a news camera with a mike that caught you? you are no longer anonymous, stupidity is no excuse from the law ;]
    perhaps we should just install cameras with mikes everywhere, just in case a terrorist is talking about doing something evil somewhere.

    i like to consider posting anonymously or yelling in a crowd with slightly modified apperance (a bandana) as being ok, and legal. i believe within the creation of the US this has always been true. without freedom of anonymous speech there is always the fear of reprocussions from differing views.

    the problem is when you begin talking about harm. the corp should see harm before harm effects them. a good manager tends to find an external source to the problem. if kellogs sales are down recently, why not blame exxon for using a tiger? that explains why the excessive expenses of marketing are costing corps millions more than employees or equipment. i shouldn't say corp names w/o posting anonymously? but if i did post anon, would it matter now?

  • Or you could wind up committing suicide by throwing yourself out a window after beating the shit our of yourself, then shooting yourself in the back of the head twice. Remember, the government doesn't always play by the rules.
  • First off, Yahoo has the article&l t;/A> as well. []

    What surprised me in the ruling (from what is so far available at NYT and Yahoo) was that it wasn't determined whether or not the remarks were defamation or not. I don't know if ALL anonymous speech should be allowed, but there has to be conditions when it should be allowed.

    Where do whistleblowers go? What about employees that want to tell others of the working condition at their job? What about anyone that just wants to rant?

    I find it irresponsible of the judge not to consider if the speech was inappropiate or not. I find this especially interestin since I've just about finished Lessig's "Code: and other laws of cyberspace". A must read for anyone that wants to understand how the future of the internet and other technologies might be determined.
  • The question, though, is, "How can you defend what you say and still protect your anonymity?" You can't.

    If you really want to be anonymous, you have to make sure that no one can trace what you say to you. This could be difficult. Or, you have to make sure that someone along the trail you leave (ISP's, newspaper publishers, etc.) are willing to defend what you say and your right to anonymity for you.

    So, if you really want to say something anonymously, you can. You just have to make sure you really are anonymous (and don't expect the law to help you out on that one).
  • That freedom of speech is a right in the US is mostly true. The internet, however, spans the entire globe including along its lines many countries that do not have freedom of speech.
    Anonymity is what ensures everyone has freedom of speech, including those who are missfortunate to live in countries where that right is not safeguarded.

    Consider also people whose opinions on a particular subject vary greatly to those of the part of society they live in. In the worst case, you are basically saying: if you aren't prepared to risk being ostracised by everyone you know, lose your job, and risk violence you don't have the right to free speech. Freedom of speech seems a moot point after you've been beaten up and left in a gutter for something you said. Part of having the right to freedom of speech is the idea that I should be able to say something I believe to be true without reprisals. In many cases, anonymity is the only way to achieve this.

    Finally, consider the case of the person who wishes to comment on a political decision but cannot officially because his contract with his company forbids him. Yes, he could risk financial well-being by making the statement and then suffer the wrath of well-paid corporate lawyers hell-bent on punishing for voicing his preference on a matter, but is that something society should demand of him? I think not.

    Anonymity is simply what protects people from being punished for voicing their opinions. And that protection, I contend, is indeed implicit to the right to freedom of speech.
  • So you're advocating security-through-obscurity, then? That's certainly contrary to prevailing slashdot wisdom.

    True enough, but that's not what's being talked about here. Rather than claiming perfect security, Cire LePueh/Johnath are describing an effective deterrent. (I think... I have a history of wildly missing the point.)

    For example, I have recently been looking for a metal lock-box in which to put my financial records. All the boxes I've found so far are big "super-boxes", fireproof, waterproof, combination-locaked, immobile. This is far to fancy for me, as I'm not really looking to prevent them from being destroyed or stolen. I just want to keep my friends from snooping around my records. All I want is a small metal box that locks. That way, when my friends find it, they can try to pull it open with their hands, or try to jimmy the lock, or play kickball with it for a while. As long as the lock lasts longer than their attention spans, it has acted as a sufficiently good deterrent.

    Now, if someone really wants those records, they can just swipe the box and attack it with a Sawzall. But I'm not really concerned about that.

    Similarly, enough "anonymous" layers of protection will act as a sufficiently good deterrent for most casual snoopers, although they'd be useless against a Terminator-level spook.

  • You make a good point about the remarks not being first ruled as defamation. That fact would seem to me to be essential to any ruling to subpoena the identities of the poster. Without a judgement that an injury has occurred, how can you legally search for someone that caused the non-injury. In effect, they are being denounced (and potentially punished) for a "crime" that did not occur.



  • Anyone who posts online should have an expectation that he or she could be called on to defend what they have written. Just because what a person writes is posted on the Internet somewhere shouldn't give it any special priveleges in comparison to, for example, a letter to the editor or any other public pronouncement. That the courts could be used to find anonymous posters so that they can be fired, does at first glance seem to be an abuse. But, the posters should also not post without expecting that they can be held accountable for what they write. Anonymity is, in any case, an illusion supported by the tradeoff between the damage done by the statement made and the amount of resources the injured party is willing to spend to find out who caused the injury.



  • This is why I see no value in ACs

    Whadaya mean? They're worth eleven.

    (Or one, if eleven would put you over 21.)


  • I didn't say it was a nice thing to swallow, but it is probably in this case the best thing

    Once you give it up you don't get it back. So, you can resist and resist and resist, but if eventually you shrug your shoulders and say "well, this time I guess it's ok..." then that's one more bit of freedom you've surrendered, until one you realize you've none left to give. And then it's too damn late.


  • That's pretty good.


  • Whats the difference?

    Here is my problem wih this.

    Alice has a problem with her employer, Bob's Widgets. She posts something on slashdot anonymously complaining about them.

    Now, it might be defamation. It might not. Thats for a court to decide right?

    Well so Bob's Widgets brings a lawsuit charging defamation. BEFORE they can rule on whether Alice is guilty of defamation they must first identify who she is (using the powers of the court), so she can provide a defense.

    Now Alice is exposed. Whether or not what she said was defamitory. So even if it was ruled that she was within her rights to say what she said, her anonimity has been compromised - and Bob's can now take action against her (termination probably) at any time.

    So how exactly does this "protect" "Anonymous Free Speech"?

  • Completely besides the point.

    Her Anonymous Free Speech has already been violated. It was violated by the court. Bob's Widgets didn't force the server admins to give up the information - It was the powers of the court.

    As for unfair termination....yea true there are laws. However that doesn't mean much. Its possible to get around the laws. (don't fire her now - put her under a microscope. Find any excuse to fire her "legitimatly". Make her work life hell so she will quit - these tactics are employed every day, and quite successfully - and often for nothing more than personal dislike)

  • Well of course ACs have an effect. Without it, why would anyone post anything as AC, or live for that matter? You can't live without having an effect, and if ACs should never have an effect, they'd all have to be dead/nonexistent. The logics don't add up well. You might as well defend having to wear ID-tags and be recorded wherever you go, abolishing cash because it's anonymous!

    Why is it that you think impressions and ideas are somehow dangerous just because you can't establish their origins? Anonymous discussions allows for freedom of prejudice and fear of reprivals. It's an essential "right" in a democratic society that many powerful people want to get away with. Not because they want to protect people, but because they want to stay in power.

    You are correct that I'm gossiping here, something I've underscored with my title of the post. This means I might be incorrect at some issues, but you can be incorrect after heavy in-dept analysis too. Ever played chess? People who play fast games learn the game faster and better than those who analyse for hours something they don't truly understand / see patterns _for themselves_ anyways. So it doesn't necessarily mean that AC had any special control over me by his nasty "impressions". I'm not saying he wasn't trolling or something like that though, I only got the words and my experience to judge from.

    I didn't even notice I replied to an AC, but I noticed there were some ACes in the discussion. I judge their post on the merits of their words, which when free of goatsex-links, may be pretty reasonable.

    In general _I_ have to judge the words people post, nobody should be able to convince me to believe anything just because they're rich, famous and powerful. You have to evaluate every word, especially from so-called trusted sources. If people fail to realize that, they're sheep who has it coming to them until they do.

    Basically, the reason there are so much wars and struggle in the world is because people don't stand up for themselves. They think that just picking the right leader to follow will solve all their problems. In this light, I have much respect for people who refuse to play ball with governments and corporations, even when they're wrong.

    The only right leader is yourself.

    - Steeltoe
  • What credibility does an anonymous poster have? None. None whatsoever. Thus, applying defamation and libel laws to anonymous speech is clearly an overstep by the legal entities.

    Your talk about responsibility is without any logical strain of thought at all (sounds like a bad copy from something you heard on TV). If you are granted anonymous speech, how can you have responsibility for what you say? True anonymity should allow you to say whatever you like, but people shouldn't generally believe you. Even if they can track you down, for you're not saying those things in public in -your own person-. I think there should also be the option of filtering out anonymous speech, making it a personal decision to view all the goatsex-links or not. ;-)

    One thing is to be defamed or slandered by someone famous and credible, quite another by Anonymous. People don't need protection from this, they need to be educated in how to use and understand the internet. Education will free the people, laws like this will repress them into staying clueless AOL lusers.

    For those who think that really free speech is harmful, consider how harmful the absence of free speech can be. The libel/slander laws are not that different from being put in prison for political views. Any company may claim huge losses for whatever you say about them in public, and if they're legal entities shouldn't these laws apply to companies too?

    - Steeltoe
  • Ho-hum, a flame based on one misplaced word in a 659-line USENET post. I'm absolutely crushed. Clearly, in my haste in trying to complete such a lengthy discourse in time to participate in my *life*, something a troll such as yourself clearly lacks, I said "incredulous" instead of "incredible." If you look closely, you'll also discover such horrible secrets as my numerous typos.

    Oh, and I wasn't bragging about my linguistic abilities--although my girlfriend *does* say I give great French lessons--I was pointing out the irony that someone as articulate as he was, was articulating a viewpoint based on a false definition of "anonymous."

    Now, I'll go back to giving my girlfriend those French lessons, my friend. You--and your hand--can go slither back under whatever trollish rock you call home. ;-)

  • John Locke would roll over in his grave if he heard this. His treatise on government (which is the basis for a large amount of democratic theory) would have been unprotected if published today. Can you honestly deny the right of the people to speak their mind about government without fear of injury? Specifically, John Locke would have been executed if the king of Britain had determined his true identity, his revolutionary words were against the very basis of a monarchy based goverment. Does this new ruling mean that we as citizens are losing the right to criticize our own goverment without fear of retribution?
  • But to say that your speech is not protected simply because X person didn't know it was *YOU* that said it is absolutely absurd.

    This is not the point at hand here. What happened was that someone posted potentially slanderous comments about someone which had a real world outcome. The head of the company wanted to hold someone responsible, but the posts were anonymous, thus they could not find them. They didn't decide to prosecute because this was someone in particular; rather, they wanted to prosecute on the principal of the matter.

    And of course, truly anonymous speakers may obviously speak with impunity.

    While you missed it above, this is the issue at hand. Anonymous speakers are allowed to do whatever they want with no consequences, which is not a right given to us. These people who posted anonymously were allowed to do something for which they would otherwise be held accountable. So we come down to the question of whether speach with impunity will be allowed and whether or not people would be held accountable for what they say.

  • Isn't Slashdot considered a member of the press? If so, why should it have to reveal its sources (for example)? What happened to freedom of the press?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Use Freedom by zeroknowledge. They are even starting a linux beta within the next week or two. They can't come after you, because even the company itself cannot find out who you are.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There can be no trust without disclosure.

    Large numbers of dissidents in dictatorships have been trying to get their message across - an effort that sometimes costs their freedom and lives. I'm sure they would wholeheartedly agree with you, if they only could.

    anonymous speech in countries such as china is a tool feared by the govt., and they have been trying hard to crack down on it. Recently the Chinese authorities jailed a dissident for anonymously sending out email addresses of possible dissidents. I'm sure they share your ideals and would give you a pat on the back. :)

  • You're mistaken. The scientologists have harassed scores of individuals for all manner of protected speech. The most vivid example of this was the scientologists "Operation Freakout" against Paulette Cooper. There are hundreds of other examples, but this one should suffice. Regardless, go read the following URLs: [] [http]

  • Yes. Exactly. If you weren't replying to my post, I'd moderate you up :)

    The problem is that too many people see government as the *source* of rights, rather than the protector of those rights . . .

    Which leads to the distinction between classical liberalism and libertarianism--the classical liberal sees government as a necessary evil, while the modern libertarian tends to dispute the necessity (though as a group they seem to be swinging back).

    Meanwhile, modern liberals (left-liberals?) and modern conservatives (center-right?) both tend to want to use government as a tool to their ends, the Constitution be damned (though the lips of conservatives frequently repeat the words of classic liberalism on small government, their actions tend to bely them). I've deliberately left the right wing out of the conservative block, as they don't even pay lip service to (classic) liberal thinking.

    This also gives us the three groups currently sitting on the US Supreme Court: it's not liberal and conservative as commonly stated, but modern liberal, conservative, and classic liberal, with none of the three groups having a majority. The classic liberal block are the swing votes. Though frequently misidentified as part of the (nonexistant) conservative majority, the times they vote with the liberal block are quite predictible (at least to those of us that have read the Constitution :).

    BTW, the classic liberal block is Scalia, Thomas, and (on his good days) Kennedy. When Scalia and Thomas split, it's usually because Scalia's knee jerks right over police safety (or something similar). Kennedy sometimes votes with the classic liberals, but about half the time he just joins the conservatives.

    hawk, esq., fairly sure that noone could construe this as legal advice
  • We have the rights to start with. The 9th supposedly made it clear that failure to enumerate rights didn't stop them from existing.

    However, this doesn't mean that *all* conceivable rights are protected by the 9th. It doesn't protect my right to throw peanut butter at ministers.

    I've always thought that the "right" to anonymous speech was a bit strained. The notiion of free speech rights is really the right not to be silenced by the government for your opinion. If the speech would be defamatory had yopu attached your name to it, the claim to a right to anonynity is the rpretense. . . .

    hawk, esq.

  • Is that the speech you cite *should* be protected, and the anonymity is necessary to protect that speech.

    On the other hand, I I want to falsely claim that Ralph Nader was paid by Ford to make up data about the Corvair, it should not be protected speech whether I sign my name or not: I should pay for the consequences of my misconduct eithe rway.

    hawk, esq.
  • The word "anonymous" is being misused here to mean merely "not attributed" or "unlisted".

    If a communication is truly anonymous then that "right" you claim, ie. to be able to look for you, within the bounds of the legal system is utterly worthless. Go waste your dollars if you want, but it won't do you any good because any modern cryptographic anonymizing system protects you with barriers far beyond the power of legislation to penetrate. Your "right" becomes just empty words, not dissimilar to an unenforceable law.

    I sure hope nobody on this forum thinks that the "anonymous" as in Anonymous Coward is in any way really anonymous, otherwise they'll receive a rude awakening one day. It's actually just "unlisted", which means that it takes two turns of the crank to uncover the origin instead of just one.
  • So you're advocating security-through-obscurity, then? That's certainly contrary to prevailing slashdot wisdom.

    "security through obscurity" actually has a meaning that you might want to look up. Hint: it has nothing to do with what you're commenting on.


  • I don't like the thought of having to submit my personal data every time I create an account for sites like /., or to get the wheather forecast, or a news digest, or whatever, simply because of the reason that I don't know what they are doing with my data.

    On the other hand, when take part in discussions like here on /., or the German "Heise Newsticker",
    I use my name (ok, here it is a nick name, its a bit older, this account), because I want everyone to know that it is me how says/writes these things.

    The right of Free Speech is meant for those who want to stand up and say "Hey, there is something wrong with ..." and they shouldn't fear the power of the gouvernment afterwards, because it dislikes this oppinion. Also, your neighbour or anyone else can't get you sentenced for saying that he has done something bad, if it's true (As you see, the right of Free Speech doesn't include the right do lie). And if everything is true, then you can speak with your name, for yourself. That is what our ancesters have fought for.

    But (a but has to come now): I can understand people that want to be anonymous towards the public, and that people should be allowed to post
    here or elsewhere in an anonymized way: the owner of the web site must know the editor of an article, but does not need to give away the data about him, except in serious cases, like it is with journalists today.

    And this would prevent a lot of flamebaits, offences, and work for getting the data about the editor from the various log files.

  • If I got an anonymous death threat? I'd pass it onto the Police and probably do little more. If I thought I knew what it might be regarding I might decide to modify my behavour, but otherwise I would treat an anonymous death threat as a bluff or hoax. Basically I'm not going to let someone else make me live in fear for the price of a postage stamp. They have to put more effort into it than that.
  • The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers weren't printed under British Law. I really don't think the environment at the time was harshly against such speech.
  • It's illegal to exact retribution against whistleblowers.

    When have Scientologists singled out people for individual retaliation based on protected speech? The only cases I've heard of involved unprotected speech.
  • I think we will find that this gets overturned, precisely because of the whistleblower scenario and the recent (relatively speaking -1995) judgements refered to in the post by Effugas. I wonder however, how much the court composition has changed, and how this will fare in todays climate at the Supreme Court level? Any Supreme Court watchers out there care to render an opinion?
  • There, two men are being prosecuted for obscenity because they've used computers to create realistic snuff films portraying fabricated and fictitious violence (not that normal porn isn't violent enough as it is),

    The obvious defence for them to use would be to list every film and television company in Canada, these companies have produced plenty of portrayals of violence.

    Without government intervention to declare these films false and criminal, people might think them real and might act upon the impulses generated by viewing them.

    These being the same people who think there are imortals running around chopping each other's heads off with swords?
  • First, despite what the Slashdot article says, no court has determined that anonymous speech is not a right. This would be absurd and totally at odds with the American tradition of government. Rather, a court has found that in one particular instance anonymous speech is not a right.

    The Federalist Papers--and if you're interested in American government, you really ought to read them--were published anonymously in newspapers (New York City, I think). During the American Revolution, anonymous pamphlets were circulated detailing the crimes of King George III. It was instances like these which helped lead to the overthrow of British rule in the Americas, and the writers of the Constitution wanted to make sure it would be available to us if we decided that our new government ever needed to be overthrown.

    Anonymous political speech has a long and distinguished history from pre-Revolutionary times through the Civil War to Vietnam to the Gulf War. There isn't a court in the nation which is crazy enough to overturn 300 years of precedent (yes, the precedents precede the United States itself) in order to say there is no Constitutionally protected right to speak anonymously.

    However, commercial or civil speech is (for better or ill) judged differently than political speech. If I post a message saying "Signal11 is a child-eating babyrapist!" anonymously, ought I be able to hide behind anonymity in order to evade a slander/libel suit? Does my right to anonymous speech outweigh Sig's right to defend his good name in a socially-proscribed manner (namely, challenging me to prove my assertion in court)?

    No. My right to anonymity can't trample on Sig's right to not be slandered. Thus, I have no right to anonymity because Sig's right to not be slandered is greater.

    Now, let's say I were to anonymously post a message saying "Al Gore is a child-eating babyrapist!" Could I then hide behind anonymity? Depends on how good Gore's lawyer is--but my suspicion is the court would say absolutely. Gore is a political figure which makes my speech politically-motivated, and my right to anonymous political speech outweighs Gore's right, as an individual, not to be slandered.

    There's a careful calculus of liberty which goes on in the courts. So let's not get our shorts in a bunch by screaming that anonymous speech is a right--of course it is, and the courts are well aware of it. All liberties are balancing acts, though, and in this one case the right to speak anonymously was held to be inferior to another person's right.
  • As one Federal judge told me, the Constitution grants no rights at all. (I think the legal ref is Cruickshank, but don't quote me on it.) Rights exist a priori of the Constitution itself. What the Constitution does is recognize the existence of these rights, not grant them to people.

    I know, you probably already know this very well and I'm not telling you anything new. ;) Take it in the spirit of a good-natured needle, if you can.
  • Well, we have a right to free speech as well, but it's superceded by quite a few laws [].

    In Roth v. United States (1957), the Justice said:

    • In the light of history, it is apparent that the unconditional phrasing
      of the First Amendment was not intended to protect every utterance.
      The protection given speech and press was fashioned to assure
      unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political
      and social changes desired by the people.
    So as long as there is historical precident or probable future use of free speech in encouraging political or social changes, then the free speech should absolutely be protected. In other cases where other guaranteed rights conflict, those other rights may be able to supercede the right to free speech.

    Perhaps the same sort of idea could be applied to anonymous speech. It's guaranteed as long as it's at all possible to use it for political or social change. The ability to lie about an entity that has a lot at stake in its reputation doesn't seem like it could ever be used for legitimate political or social change (unless that change is towards anarchy).

  • The value in ACs is that they can point the public to independently verifiable evidence that was previously being actively hidden.
  • Here's a very good quote from that usenet post which seems to succinctly address this entire story:
    • Anonymous posters don't need to be trusted--take them cum grano salis, because the possibilites for them to do *actual* damage to someone are minuscule, whereas the possibilities for the government and corporate authorities to do actual damage to a non-anonymous poster are are extreme and likely.

  • What credibility does an anonymous poster have?
    Potentially as much as Deep Throat, but anonymous tipsters have to bring more to the table if they wish to be taken seriously. That's why Slashdot gives your posts an extra point just for signing your name, but everybody caps out at five.

    Some of us have said enough credible stuff in the past that credibility is taken for granted, so we get two extra points to start with. And we get to waive all points by electing to remain anonymous, or waive one point when we're speaking in a less "important" context.

    Personally, I think anonymity is critical. There are far too circumstances under which retailiation or harassment is the inevitable consequence of "going public".

    Say you work at a factory and find out the owners are dumping mercury straight into the groundwater. If you threaten to blow the whistle, the first thing they'll do is fire you for gross incompetence the next time your shoe laces come undone. So instead, you go to a reporter and say "this is who I am; this is what's going on", and the reporter uses you as a credible but anonymous source for his story. Your anonymity has been Constitutionally protected in case after case after case.

    But if the factory can just file a lawsuit against John Doe and find out your identity even before the lawsuit proceeds, you're completely screwed, and so is the public's hope of ever finding out about corporate misdeeds through the actions of a free press relying on anonymous inside sources. And that's what this appelate finding is saying: if you call the reporter, you're protected. If you send him a letter, you're protected. If you meet the reporter at midnight in a parking garage, you're protected. But if you e-mail him, or if you eliminate the middleman of a free press and take your knowledge public via e-mail, you're no longer protected. I'm still trying to figure out how or why this makes sense, and am unable to do so.


  • The best protection is to warn people of the obvious dangers of strangers on-line. We teach children not to trust strangers, we don't lock them up in a closet for their own good. Now its time to teach adults not to trust strangers. Its a simple lesson that can be easily understood by even the lowiest technophobe.

    No fancy legislation required.
  • Make sure to get one of those magical international subpeonas. The key word here was off-shore.
  • Anonymity is not equal to free speech. Anonymity just gives you an excuse to shrug off all responsibility for what you say and, in the case of the internet, do.

    I recommend a book that refutes this argument in detail: The Unwanted Gaze : The Destruction of Privacy in America by Jeffrey Rosen. He points out that much of what we do depends on an expectation of privacy. What matters is that we may be watched. It alters our behavior. We avoid activities that might draw the disapproval of our neighbors, even though our neighbors have no legitimate interest in those activities.
  • It doesn't ask for any other E-mail address when you register (at least it didn't last time I created a hotmail account). Which means that you can create that hotmail account through an anonymizing Web proxy, or from a "pay cash" cybercafe, or from one of those free and unattended "Internet kiosks" that you find in supermarket, without leaving any identifying info at all. Once you have an e-mail address, this opens you the door to lots of other services which require a verified address.
  • the 9th ammendment gives you the right

    Not it does not. The Bill of Rights is not a gift of the government to the people. The Bill of Rights is an admission by the government that there are some rights that governments have a tendency to take from people, and it enumerates them. They were enumerated specifically and very pointedly precisely because the founders knew how governments tended to usurp power to itself. The founders therefore enumerated rights, starting with the most important, that of free speech and belief, and they so feared people coming along and, like you, misinterpreting what they were doing that they added the last two ammendments to the Bill of Rights:

    Amendment IX
    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Amendment X
    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

  • From

    The question at hand is this: How do we mold the early videotex environment so that noise is suppressed without limiting the free flow of information between customers?

    The first obstacle is, of course, legal. As the knights of U.S. feudalism, corporate lawyers have a penchant for finding ways of stomping out innovation and diversity in any way possible. In the case of videotex, the attempt is to keep feudal control of information by making videotex system ownership imply liability for information transmitted over it. For example, if a libelous communication takes place, corporate lawyers for the plaintiff will bring suit against the carrier rather than the individual responsible for the communication. The rationalizations for this clearly unreasonable and contrived position are quite numerous. Without a common carrier status, the carrier will be treading on virgin ground legally and thus be unprotected by precedent. Indeed, the stakes are high enough that the competitor could easily afford to fabricate an event ideal for the purposes of such a suit. This means the first legal precedent could be in favor of holding the carrier responsible for the communications transmitted over its network, thus forcing (or giving an excuse for) the carrier to inspect, edit and censor all communications except, perhaps, simple person-to-person or "electronic mail". This, in turn, would put editorial control right back in the hands of the feudalists. Potential carriers' own lawyers are already hard at work worrying everyone about such a suit. They would like to win the battle against diversity before it begins. This is unlikely because videotex is still driven by technology and therefore by pioneers.

    The question then becomes: How do we best protect against such "legal" tactics? The answer seems to be an early emphasis on secure identification of the source of communications so that there can be no question as to the individual responsible. This would preempt an attempt to hold the carrier liable. Anonymous communications, like Delphi conferencing, could even be supported as long as some individual would be willing to attach his/her name to the communication before distributing it. This would be similar, legally, to a "letters to the editor" column where a writer remains anonymous. Another measure could be to require that only individuals of legal age be allowed to author publishable communications. Yet another measure could be to require anyone who wishes to write and publish information on the network to put in writing, in an agreement separate from the standard customer agreement, that they are liable for any and all communications originating under their name on the network. This would preempt the "stolen password" excuse for holding the carrier liable.

    Beyond the secure identification of communication sources, there is the necessity of editorial services. Not everyone is going to want to filter through everything published by everyone on the network. An infrastructure of editorial staffs is that filter. In exchange for their service the editorial staff gets to promote their view of the world and, if they are in enough demand, charge money for access to their list of approved articles. On a videotex network, there is little capital involved in establishing an editorial staff. All that is required is a terminal and a file on the network which may have an intrinsic cost as low as $5/month if it represents a publication with "only" around 100 articles. The rest is up to the customers. If they like a publication, they will read it. If they don't they won't. A customer could ask to see all articles approved by staffs A or B inclusive, or only those articles approved by both A and B, etc. This sort of customer selection could involve as many editorial staffs as desired in any logical combination. An editorial staff could review other editorial staffs as well as individual articles, forming hierarchies to handle the mass of articles that would be submitted every day. This sort of editorial mechanism would not only provide a very efficient way of filtering out poor and questionable communications without inhibiting diversity, it would add a layer of liability for publications that would further insulate carriers from liability and therefore from a monopoly over communications.

    In general, anything that acts to filter out bad information and that is not under control of the carrier, acts to prevent the carrier from monopolizing the evolution of ideas on the network.

  • Not if one engages in the 'extra work' the poster alludes to. Consider creating a hushmail account (no IP information attached or logged) from an internet cafe, and using that to sign up for the hypothetical 'offshore account'.

    Within a few months there will probably be a more direct way through HavenCo's sealand facility. You just know that within their first month of full-tilt business, someone is going to buy some rackspace and sell anonymous shell access by the barrelfull. You can bet that said privacy activist won't hand over the logs willfully, and it's hard to subpeona sealand - even if international law rejects their sovereign status, it would be a far uglier process than most anonymous flaming would justify, I'm sure.

    And of course, while we're at it, the internet cafe is rather superfluous anyhow - anonymizing proxies, bless their souls, exist by the dozen now, and even more numerous are the misconfured wingates and squid proxies of the world that leave no logs and ask no questions.


  • You are assuming away any effect anonymous posters have, but they do, in fact, have an effect on the discussion. The fact that what you wrote was in response to an Anonymous Coward indicates that you thought AC's comments were at least credible enough to be commented on.
    There is also the effect that comes from people passing on their impressions on an issue that they came by by simply scanning the tenor of comments rather than by any in-depth analysis. This could be referred to as a "gossip effect."

  • You are misstating the impact of this decision. The court is not banning anonymous speech. The decision merely reinforces previous case law that has determined that defamation of character (slander/libel) is an exception to free speech.

    Slandourous accusations have never been protected by the First Amendment. If I were to level untrue accusations against you, your family or the company you work for should that speech be protected based solely on the fact that I posted the accusations anonymously? The law should not change depending on whether speech is anonymous or not. Either way slanderous speech is illegal and the victims of the speech should have the opportunity to confront those making the untrue speech.

    I do agree that it is a little scary that a court can grant a subpoena to ferret out the identity of an anonymous poster without any proof that the poster's speech is indeed defamation. However, I would imagine that often speech could not be proved slanderous unless the identity of the speaker is known. A judge should have some discretion in determining if the accuser's charge is substantial enough to warrant taking away the anonymity of the poster.

  • Exactly! The main post claims "This seems like an abuse of the judicial system to me." I would argue differently. Since many publications have offered virtual anonymity, we have been lead to believe that anonymous speech is protected definately. With the rise of such cases challenging anonymous items, I would have to say that "This seems like the abuse of the previously tolerated anonymity is beginning to scratch at the itch too deep."

    In support of the argument

    An anonymous writing is similar to making a drawing an image with a pencil without paper or any material of the like. The credibility of the work is not represented by anybody but somebody who supposedly exists. Those who are anonymous are not necessarily writing for themselves. They are writing on behalf of those who do choose to assume the views of the writer and make themselves noticed.

    Let's say person X writes something with complete anonymity. If publicly displayed, others may find it and agree with the views. Think of it this way: The drawing was created, but others who agree or disagree must formulate the paper and reapply the views to it. And without those people, who's to say that there is any credible source to represent the views expressed? It's as though it "never happened."

    But I'm just writing about nothing and I'm glad you made it this far :-).

  • I appologize for confusing Credability and Liability. But I still believe that, unless a view is represented by a person, it is not as credible as though that person were made known.

    The only problem is that the there is a bit of hypocracy surrounding the issue of anonymity. Lots of people want a credible source or, as you have suggested, if anonymous, someone who has demonstrated his or herself to be reasonably accurate with their facts or reasonably persuasive with their views; Yet if what is said is inaccurate or inaccurately illegal (ie. defamation, libel, etc.) the same people will want to hold somebody accountable for the error.

    I'd like to say more but I've little time to work out on paper my idea so as to better clarify it.

    1. AC posts something
    2. Plaintiff claims that a posting is defamatory. Either:
      1. Directly to the ISP or...
      2. To a court
      In the first case, there is less hassle, but the plaintiff will never have AC's identity (no court order)
      1. Court either throw the case out (end of story) or..
      2. Agrees to try the case against John Doe
    3. ISP (or similar) is informed that a posting is up for court.
    4. ISP must make a reasonable effort to contact AC but has no obligation to disclose any identities yet. ISP may:
      1. Cancel the article at this point if its content is against their terms of service. (whistleblowing AC choose the wrong ISP)
      2. Discuss matters with AC. AC may weasel out (post dropped unless the ISP wants to fight anyway) or provide any additional facts and take the fight. Anonymous or shielded behind the ISP.
    5. Court rules on libel/defamation charge.
      1. AC/ISP wins, Yippie! or
      2. AC loses. His/her identity can be disclosed to the court *unless* ISP's terms of service states that the ISP owns/is responsible for any content on their site.
    This would be more like in the newspaper world. A court may order an ISP to reveal a source (unlike with a paper in a civilized country) but the ISP can also assume responsibility for "their" content. (for a prize, like the right to the content or an legal insurance fee)
  • Of course anonymous speech should be held to the same standards as a publicly known speaker. Slander, Libel, and insighting violence, etc. are all exceptions as we know.

    Well according to the article on Excite [] the ruling only affects defamation of character which is (slander/libel) and is already an exception to free speech.

    Second Law of Blissful Ignorance
  • ok. i didn't read the article because i have absolutely no desire to get an acct with the NYT. but from what everyone is seems that this is far from newsworthy.

    1) If the speech is slanderous or libelous (etc.) then OF COURSE the speaker can be held accountable. Is that revolutionary?? of course not. Did anyone actually expect that slander was a protected right so long as you tried to make sure no one knew it was you that said it?!?!?!

    Anonymous speakers are allowed to do whatever they want with no consequences, which is not a right given to us.

    you're missing the point. if i say something, and someone discovers that it was i who said it, i'm not really speaking anonymously. Then again, if i speak with true anonymity - you'll never know I said it, and the law is moot. It's a catch 22.

    but, of course my original point still stands. Slander and Libel are not covered under the first amendment anyway, so why was slashdot posting this "Oh my god, the government is taking away our rights" FUD?

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • What's interesting is the "founding fathers" of the US did themselves write under pseudonyms occasionally.
  • U.S. libel law: Plaintiff has to prove the statements were false.
    British libel law: Defendant has to prove the statements were true.

  • The Boston globe talked about this [] back in 1999. There are some reasons for dropping it, but many of the cases are used to get the identity of the user. If you are accusing someone of violating a non-disclosure, but then find out that this person is not covered by it. Or if you accuse someone of employment harassment and find out that they are not an employee of the company.

    But in many cases, companies use this to get the identity of the user and then fire them.

    This is a thin line. Where do we place it?

    People must take responsibility for what they post.

    We are all to be barcoded and watched by satellite.

  • If I can't just click on an "article" hyperlink and read the article, it's not worth it. I haven't read 1 single NYT post yet.
  • Each step along that trail can be subpoenaed, which is what's being discussed here.

    Not if you plug six laptop computers into a public phone bank like in the movie Hackers!
  • No, the Bill of Rights does require responsibility

    I have the right to a gun. I have the responsibility to use it only for defense.

    Your rights end where mine begin. And vice versa

  • You missed a couple of points

    It's not THAT hard for /.'er For the average internet user though?

    So the communications get tracked to the owner of the server(you), who promptly gets subpenoaed for the records. If they don't exist, there is a chance that you might be held responsible

  • Of course, the best strategy is to always speak the truth.

    Is it?

    Have you heard about the McLibel []case?

    The truth is often irrelevant in libel allegations. If you made a statement, however factual, about a multinational corporation, and they threatened to sue you for libel if you didn't retract it, would you be prepared to spend years, and large sums of money, single handledly attempting to prove the allegations against the full force of their lawyers, and facing huge fines if you lost? Or would you just quietly give in?

    And could you guarantee to be able to PROVE that everything that you said was true? In a libel case, it's up to you to prove that they are true, not for the prosecution to prove that they are false. In the McLibel case, many of the original statements made by the defendant were proved to be true (as far as the judge was concerned), and non of the others were proved to false. Yet they lost the case.

    If you don't want to get sued, the best strategy is normally to not say anything bad, truthful or not, about anyone with more money than you.
  • So essentially, if you got an anonymous death threat, since you have no way of verifying its authenticity or source, you can not trust it. Hypothetically, two days later, someone runs you over with his car. You're now dead. Was the threat unreal this time around because it had no verifiable source at the time you read it?


  • This protects those who can't determine what is anonymous, and what isn't. While in the real world it is quite possible to ignore the anonymous scrawls in the bathroom stall, in the digital world the anonymous person can scrawl in big letters on a billboard, for all to see, and in many cases only differentiated from the identified posts by the attribution.

    The experienced user does not have trouble with this, but those who are still not completely used to the Internet's style can't tell the differnce. And, with the sole differnece between moderator and anonymous poster generally being a short thing to the side in small font it can be difficult to tell who is real. The rulling may not be the most palatable one, but it is probably best for the majority of the population.

  • This point is basically made so often it's remarkable. Basically - if you are not guilty, you have nothing to hide, so you need have no fear of disclosing.

    This principle was/is used by govts. with an authoritarian bent to intrude into all areas of private life, property and communication. Let's try applying these principles.

    * If you earn an honest income, why should you hide it from the income tax officials? People shouldn't be free to just walk to an ATM and anonymously deposit/withdraw money or transfer it overseas in complete privacy - it could be illegal money.

    * If you lead an honest life, there's no need to hide behind the anonymity of your private doors. Why, in good societies like the old communist regimes, people DID lead honest lives, which is why they didn't mind officials walking in to make sure everything was OK. It brought responsibility back into the system. Recently, the Russian govt. has been trying to pass a law that permits officials to look at all internet communications - the tapping would be live, but they would actually look at material only after approval by a judge. Makes sense, since people won't post crap online.

    * If you conduct all your telephone conversations and correspondence responsibly and legally, you have nothing to fear from people tapping/reading into it. With the right to mail letters or use a phone, comes responsibility, such as not mailing death threats or harassing people. If communication is open and freely looked at, people will behave more responsibly instead of conducting stupid gossip or slander.

    I'm sure most of you have noticed that the internet is full of garbage. Quite a lot of that garbage wouldn't be there if it weren't for the anonymity that exists.

    I'm sure most of you have noticed that magazines are full of garbage. Quite a lot of that wouldn't be there if only the good stuff were permitted to be published.

    And so on, ad nauseum. I'm tired of the "If you have rights, you need to have responsibilities" argument when applied to speech/communication. No, if you have priviliges, you need to have responsibilities - such as driving a car.

    Besides, if we didn't have the freedom to create the 99% trash that people publish/post/write, much of the world's great literature/music/art would not exist.


  • You're all focusing on the wrong thing. Anonymity is not equal to free speech. Anonymity just gives you an excuse to shrug off all responsibility for what you say and, in the case of the internet, do.

    The internet does not need anonymity. I'm sure most of you have noticed that the internet is full of garbage. Quite a lot of that garbage wouldn't be there if it weren't for the anonymity that exists.

    I'm not talking about just anonymity from the government (although it is obviously a large part of the issue here), which as I already mentioned in an earlier post doesn't exist unless you really know what you're doing, and possibly not even then. I'm talking about the regular every day not knowing who that anonymous coward is on slashdot. Dang, that guy posts a lot. He must never sleep.

    Neither of these forms of anonymity need to be protected. In the first case (government), because it's not even the issue. The government decides whether to expose you or not, but the real issue is free speech. The right to say what we want, even when everyone knows who we are. The second anonymity (anonymous coward)...well the name given to them on slashdot is fitting. Knowing someone's identity forces some responsibility. If free speech is protected, as it should be, they can still say what they want, but most of them won't say what they don't really need to say, which would eliminate the problem of the internet being 99% complete trash.

    The real point here, is that free speech, not anonymity, is what needs to be protected. The right to stand in the middle of everything, when everybody knows exactly who you are, and say what you have to say. This right exists without anonymity, you just have to put a little more thought into what you say. The mentally healthy person however, doesn't need fear the opinion of the masses when they have something actually important to say.

    Free speech. Not anonymity. Make the distinction.

  • Having someone fire or sue you isn't the only danger. If you post using your own name on Usenet (or even here on SlashDot), there's always the danger that someone like a divorcing spouse or an employer is going to check out what you've been saying, and may use it against you. I personally know of one poster on Usenet who had to pledge to his new employer that he wouldn't post to Usenet any more. The employer had looked at his previous writings and was sufficiently perturbed to extract this promise. Personally, I use ZeroKnowledge Freedom [] for all of my postings here and elsewhere. You can also consider using Anonymizer [], but I think the protection is less robust there if someone is really determined to find you.
  • When will the lawmakers learn....anonymity is the cornerstone of the open source generation. It's like the verbal equal to the hit-and-run. Removing our right to anonymity is like making us all meet face to face....and let's own up to it - most of us would be wallflowers at that dance.

    1. Where Your Vote Should Go []
  • Throw-away accounts leave electronic paper-trails as to how you created them (which email addresses you had the registration info sent to, going backwards in time to a primordial address traceable to you). Each step along that trail can be subpoenaed, which is what's being discussed here.
  • Just look at Canada, for example. There, two men are being prosecuted [] for obscenity because they've used computers to create realistic snuff films portraying fabricated and fictitious violence (not that normal porn isn't violent enough as it is). Without government intervention to declare these films false and criminal, people might think them real and might act upon the impulses generated by viewing them.

    It's the same with anonymous speech. You may pretend you understand what is credible and what is not, and you may even be right. But it's a natural part of human nature to assess anonymous speech with some value when ranking memes. Only through law can we save people from themselves and reestablish which memes have value and which are credible; law is a pillar of legitimacy and credibility in an uncertain world.
  • this one [] then get rid of it I say.

    Much as this is a repeat I just want to say -- There can be no trust without disclosure. Anonymity's all well and good, but unless the information presented can not be verified by an independant source then it should be summarily dismissed and similarly not considered worth worrying about. (This is why I see no value in ACs)

  • by Cire LePueh ( 26571 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @09:20PM (#700897)
    All the more reason to keep and use multiple throw away accounts, especially with telnet access. Of course another question that comes to mind is the case of the Internet Cafe type scenario. Although this has some potential for impact, it seems to me that if someone really wants to engage in what is considered in the U.S. to be defamatory actions all that is required is a minor amout of extra work...telnet into an offshore throwaway account for instance...or head down to a cafe.
  • I repeat my post from the previous posting of this story because the other story never made it to the front page:

    Defamation has two absolute defenses. Both of them can be determined without knowing the identity of the anonymous posters.

    The judge absolutely should have respected the anonymity of the individuals until the two absolute defenses were exhausted.

    If the statements were TRUE or if the statements were not statements of fact, but of opinion, no defamation took place. The speakers should remain anonymous until they are absultely needed to stand behind their actions. The judge does not need the defendents' identities to judge the authenticity of these defenses as long as they are proffering them (through the ACLU). They are questions of fact that judges determine every hour of every day, and the identities of the accused have no bearing on the outcome.

    This talk about getting people on the internet to "think about what they say" is code for silencing whistleblowers and people that speak about corporations and their leaders in unflattering, but nondefamatory and fully legal ways. Precedent continuing in this fashion will absolutely chill free speech and is unconstitutional
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @10:20PM (#700899)
    Lets see are they trying to force a third party ID check down our throats? A handle without an email address attached to it (or a fake one) is the same as anonymous speech. How many of us have one of those? Non-obvious spam blocking text puts you in that category. Scared yet?

    They want to put ID profiling in the power of the moderators? Say I run a Christian Coalition webpage on my home machine effectivly making me the ISP/Moderator and we have a weboard and a few of them get into slandering a well known homosexual.

    Now, someone else logs in and says the exact same thing about the members of that group. Guess who gets the lawsuit? It sure ain't my god-fearing people, its that nasty boy who don't like our 'straight talk.' In other words, slander is only slander when someone sues you. Do you think I'd turn in my own members after a good post on what evil things Harvey Firestien puts in certain parts of his body and his 'deal' with little boys?

    The sad part is this is all because of some "tips from the internet" style of stockbroking which there is no excuse for. You believed someone on-line whom you've never met or even seen, you fell for it, now you have to deal with it. Just like the real world.
    Its called checking your sources, especially if you're in the get rich quick game.

  • by Sir_Winston ( 107378 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @10:38PM (#700900)
    I'd post a lengthy explanation of why it's more important to protect basic freedoms than to protect idiots who should learn about the Net before they run out into traffic and get run over on the information superhighway, but I said it well enough in a discussion on alt.privacy.anon-server. It was in response to a man who blamed anonymous remailers as responsible for threats made by an anonymous person to some woman he knows.

    I won't repost it here because it's a good 659 lines, but here's some linkage to it on DejaNews (I still can't bring myself to call them Deja...sigh...):[ST_rn=ps]/threadmsg_ct.xp?AN= 661727467&CONTEXT=971767337. 1064960 22 []

    If that link expires, go to the main Power Search page at [] and type "carbonymous" into the author field, and that will show it and a few others.

  • by fluxrad ( 125130 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @09:26PM (#700901) Homepage
    personally i find the idea that anonymous speech is not protected under the first amendment to be ludicrous.

    Of course anonymous speech should be held to the same standards as a publicly known speaker. Slander, Libel, and insighting violence, etc. are all exceptions as we know. - But to say that your speech is not protected simply because X person didn't know it was *YOU* that said it is absolutely absurd.

    then, of course we get to the question - if someone can find out that you DID in fact make such statement, is it really anonymous speech anymore ;-) And of course, truly anonymous speakers may obviously speak with impunity.

    oh well, i guess now i can sue the penis bird AC's for causing me mental anguish (tm).

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • by Tassach ( 137772 ) on Tuesday October 17, 2000 @09:20AM (#700902)
    The Bill of Rights is not a list of things we are ALLOWED to do, it is a list of things that Congress CANNOT do -- eg "Congress shall pass no law ..." The 1st amendment does not say "this document gives the people the right to speak their minds"; it says "The people ALREADY have the right to speak their minds, this document prohibits Congress from taking that right away from them".

    The way the 9th amendment was INTENDED to be read was "The Constitution and it's Amendments are an exhaustive list of the powers and responsibilities of the United States Government. If it ain't listed here, the Federal gov't can't do it; maybe the States can, or maybe they can't either, depending on what the Courts say". Congress has never been happy with that and has been finding ways to weasle out of obeying the 9th ever since it was adopted -- either by ignoring it outright [take your pick of 3 letter agencies] or by bullying the States into doing their dirty work [eg speed limits, drinking age]

  • by ttyRazor ( 20815 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @09:29PM (#700903)
    All this boils down to a simple bit of advise that people seem to forget every time they look at a computer: "don't believe everything you read". The flood of lawsuits like this all work under the assumption that anything joe-schmoe AOL user says is as authoritative as if Alan Greenspan himself decreed that so-and-so company "sucks ass". Guess what lawyers, people have these conversations privately all the time, and not all of them are professional stock analysts. The reason why you have the option to sue in the first place is because someone with credibility might say something false against you and others might actually believe it in a way that measurably hurts your reputation and your ability to do whatever you do.
  • by Cire LePueh ( 26571 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @10:19PM (#700904)
    While this is definately true, throw aways can provide anywhere from a small to large layer of protection. While there is an electronic trail with any account system, the tail becomes harder to follow by intelligently using accounts (both net access and email) to cover your true identity. The trail does exist, but each layer makes it a bit harder to track if done well. If nothing else simply from the coordination of access and amount of technical info/support needed. Add offshore telnet accounts and the trail can deadend depending on the level of cooperation the foreign access point is willing to provide, in a civil situation it may very well be none. (or if pockets get lined...complete.) Historically this method has been one of the many used successfully by black hats for years. It has bitten those that relied solely on this method and did enough damage, or ticked the wrong person off enough to go after it tenaciously.

    Either way it does not invalidate the value of the internet cafe/public library/school computer lab/etc/etc. Either as a sole device, or a step in the anomymizing chain. To combat this would take actual physical surveilance at some point by someone involved.

    Another question that comes to mind is the time frames we are talking about here. Even if a university lab keeps records of traffic of the network, they tend to look for certain flags...not the type of activity we are talking about. I know of two locations near me that regularly dump to /dev/null their general access logs and traffic logs. Not the best policy maybe but one their admins have in place.
  • by IntelliTubbie ( 29947 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @10:19PM (#700905)
    The statement that the court ruled that "anonymous speech is not a protected right" is false. Anonymous speech enjoys the same protections under the First Amendment as any other speech (see this post []).

    However, some speech is not covered under the First Amendment: libel, obscenity, fraud, shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, etc. This ruling says that the right to the anonymity of speakers does not extend to non-protected speech. So, while I can criticize Microsoft's policies anonymously with impunity, I can't slander Bill Gates and hide from prosecution behind a shield of anonymity.
  • by rackrent ( 160690 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @09:10PM (#700906)
    Does anyone else find it ironic that the NYT link to a story regarding anonymity requires registration to view the document??


  • by Anne Marie ( 239347 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @09:20PM (#700907)
    Excite News has an article [] on one of the cases discussed by the NYT.
  • by Effugas ( 2378 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @09:55PM (#700908) Homepage
    Actually, I'm curious how this court reconciles their decision with the Supreme Court's relatively recent rulings directly supporting the right to speak anonymously. [] To quote Justice Stevens:

    "quite apart from any threat of persecution, an advocate may believe her
    ideas will be more persuasive if her readers are unaware of her
    identity. Anonymity thereby provides a way for a writer who may be
    personally unpopular to ensure that readers will not prejudge her
    message simply because they do not like its proponent." Stevens
    concluded "Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a
    pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of
    advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of
    the majority. "

    See the above link for further details; essentially, it's rather difficult for the courts to ban anonymous speech when some of the founding papers of this country(the Federalist Papers) were released anonymously, in an environment that was intensely harsh against such speech. To wit:

    The obnoxious press licensing law of England, which was also
    enforced on the Colonies was due in part to the knowledge that
    exposure of the names of printers, writers and distributors would
    lessen the circulation of literature critical of the government. The
    old seditious libel cases in England show the lengths to which
    government had to go to find out who was responsible for books that
    were obnoxious to the rulers. John Lilburne was whipped, pilloried
    and fined for refusing to answer questions designed to get evidence
    to convict him or someone else for the secret distribution of books
    in England. Two Puritan Ministers, John Penry and John Udal, were
    sentenced to death on charges that they were responsible for writing,
    printing or publishing books.

    (If you haven't noticed--England has retained some of the more brutally harsh and heavily enforced Libel laws [] in the industrialized world. Tradition.)

    I'm actually pretty intensely interested in what the appeals court had to say that would appear to contravene established precedent. Is the court saying it's OK to call the government inept, but not a corporation? Consider what that implies.

    Yours Truly,

    Dan Kaminsky
    DoxPara Reseach
  • by isaac ( 2852 ) on Monday October 16, 2000 @10:28PM (#700909) that it orders the message board operator to reveal the identity of an anonymous poster *before* it has ruled whether the remarks were in legal fact defamatory. This is the dangerous precedent. Even if the statements in this case are defamatory and not protected under the First Amendment, future plaintiffs will be able to point to this court and say "Look! You have to reveal the identity of this Anonymous Coward first, then rule on my claims of libel/defamation", then single out this individual for retaliation once his/her identity is revealed, even if the anonymous posts are protected speech. (This is one of the favored legal tactics of Scientologists seeking to squash critics, in case you've been under a rock.)

    Hopefully, this decision won't stand; it only serves to legitimize the nasty practice of identifying anonymous critics and whistleblowers via subpoena, for the sole purpose of seeking retribution.


  • by Dr. Tom ( 23206 ) <> on Monday October 16, 2000 @09:22PM (#700910) Homepage
    Yea, the 9th amendment gives you the right, but what most people fail to realize is that rights do not exist in vacuo. Rights are irreducibly tied to responsibilities -- you cannot have rights without responsibilities. It works the other way around, too -- you cannot have responsibilities without rights. You want one without the other? Tough! It doesn't work that way. You want to slander me and hide? Fine, but I have the right to look for you, within the bounds of the legal system, and you are responsible for what you say, whether you do it in the clear or not.

    Naturally, some people are better at hacking the legal system than others.

    This does NOT mean that you don't have the right to post anonymously -- you do -- and a clever person would leverage this to get such cases thrown out of court (any system can be hacked, even the legal system). But you cannot relinquish the responsibilities that go with anonymity!

Save yourself! Reboot in 5 seconds!