A scary anti-privacy bill that has flown under the radar for the past two months is making its way across the Internet today, where it is receiving significant push back. Bill S6779, introduced in the New York State Senate on March 21, 2012 by Senator Thomas F. O’Mara, would require website administrators to collect personal information from posters who wish to remain anonymous. If the anonymous poster would refuse to give up the required personal information, the website administrator would be responsible for deleting all of the anonymous poster’s comments.
From the bill’s online page:
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS: Section 1 contains definitions and requires a website administrator, upon request to remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless the anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms his or her address, legal name, and home address are accurate. Also, requires website administrators to have a contact number or email address posted for removal requests, clearly visible in any section where comments are posted.
The bill’s sponsor claims that his legislation is intended to curtail the recent wave of online bullying that has been plaguing communities across the nation. While I absolutely agree that something needs to be done about online bullying, especially considering that dozens of kids have committed suicide due to relentless bullying, I feel that this bill, though drafted with good intentions, will have dire consequences.
Website administrators already have enough problems moderating their forums and comments sections. To require them to collect and store a legal name, email address, and home address for every single poster who wishes to remain anonymous will make administrators’ jobs much more time consuming. In addition, hackers would know that posters’ personal information is somewhere on a website’s server, making it an easy target for identity theft. Not to mention that an IP address isn’t even proof of identity, considering that many households have shared computers with multiple users.
What’s most scary about this bill is the fact that posters would have to disclose their email address and a contact number to allow for removal requests of posts. This really means that posters would give up their anonymity, even if they agreed to send in the required personal information to the website administration, trusting that he or she would keep that information safe and secure.
Considering that literally today in neighboring New Jersey a mayor and his son were arrested for hacking into a website organizing a recall effort against him, this makes bill S6779 that much more dangerous. Felix Roque, mayor of West New York, New Jersey, allegedly hacked into the account of an anonymous city council member who had organized a recall effort against the mayor. Mr. Roque’s alleged crimes also involve intimidation of the uncovered, formerly anonymous city council member. This real life example of why internet anonymity is so crucial to a free and open Internet is more than enough proof as to why a bill like S6779 is extremely dangerous.
Finally, an anti-privacy bill like S6779 would likely do nothing to prevent online bullying. Bullies will be bullies, and they would probably just switch over to Facebook for their attacks. The bill would also have devastating effects for online communities, as website administrators would likely just shut down their forums rather than invest time and money into policing their members’ comments.
Hopefully, this bill will be withdrawn from the New York State Senate. If you would like to contact Senator O’Mara and request that he withdraw this bill, visit his website.