Proposed New York Internet Protection Act Threatens Anonymous Free Speech In The State

Is NY’s Internet Protection Act Another Misguided Cyberbully Legislation Attempt?

New York Internet Protection Act - Cyberbullying Not to be outdone by their cyberbully law-drafting counterparts in Arizona, New York legislators penned a doozy of a cyberbully bill — the Internet Protection Act (IPA).

In a state well known for its forthright citizens, if passed, the Internet Protection Act would not only make it illegal to anonymously harass classmates online (a noble cause), but it would also be illegal to post anonymous disparaging diatribes about state politicians or local businesses (a shady cause).

How New York’s Internet Protection Act (IPA) Would Work

Originally authored by New York District 10 Assemblyman Jim Conte, the primary goal of the Internet Protection Act is to combat cyberbullying. But like other bills promoted as cyberbullying legislation, the IPA goes too far in attempting to rectify the problem.

In short, New York’s proposed Internet Protection Act outlines a process wherein those who are bullied (and presumably defamed) online can take action to remove the material. The bill, however, only applies to anonymous comments.

As currently written, the IPA would allow victims to contact a site where offensive material is posted and demand that the person making the comment attach their name to the statement. If the original poster doesn’t comply, the website, under the IPA, would be forced to remove the content.

Online Business Reviews and Political Rants Would Also Be Curbed Under New York’s Internet Protection Act

But Conte’s bill doesn’t stop at cyberbullying. In addition to its underage-stalking aspect, the IPA also includes language that aims to protect elected officials from “mean spirited and baseless political attacks.”  An arguably thought provoking addition considering that Conte was quoted as attributing New York’s near Republican sweep in the 2010 elections to the fact that the party had “had no scandals and [were] getting the job done.”  Though, the public can’t know about any scandals if none are broached – and the first step in silencing critics is enacting semi-Draconian Internet conduct laws. (Both Parties are equally guilty.)

In addition to cyberbullying and safeguards for politicians, business owners will be pleased to learn that the IPA also aims to stamp out online trade libel. If passed, the IPA will afford business owners the same “name reveal” protections as online bullying victims. Supporters of the bill argue this measure will help ensure that only real customers – not competitors – are the only people posting Internet evaluations.

What Constitutional Scholars And Internet Lawyers Are Saying About NY’s Proposed Internet Protection Act: “Hey New York, Remember Your American History!”

Kevin Bankston – an attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology – said it best when he dubbed New York’s proposed Internet conduct law “a heckler’s veto.” Many reporters, like David Kravets at Wired, reminded the “Federalist Papers” may never have been distributed, and thus our beloved Constitution never ratified, if laws existed against anonymous speech in our nation’s nascent days.

If passed, the Internet Protection Act would apply to the websites of newspapers based in New York; which means two of the most circulated dailies in the world – the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal – would be subject to this law. An ironic point when you consider the fact that a Supreme Court case involving the New York Times (New York Times, Inc. v. Sullivan) is widely regarded as one of the most important defamation rulings in our nation’s history (it’s the one that made actual malice a standard in defamation lawsuits involving public figures and elected officials).

In short, if gaveled into law, New York’s Internet Protect Action would come dangerously close to infringing on individuals’ free speech rights.

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