Rhode Island Says Police Can Decloak Anonymous People Online If They Find Them Offensive

from the anonymity-is-protected-by-the-first-amendment dept

We’ve been noticing a trend of various states attempting to pass laws against being a jerk online — with a particular distaste for anonymous jerks. But it seems that Rhode Island is taking it to new levels. Via Copycense, we learn that Rhode Island is pushing forward with a broadly written law (for the children, of course!), which would let police get names and other identifying information from service providers for online speech that they find to be “offensive” or harassing, without requiring that it go through a judge for a warrant first. Technically, the bill allows for law enforcement to issue an “administrative subpoena” on such issues, rather than having to get a judge-approved warrant. While much of the bill is targeted at uncovering those involved in child porn, it uses that fact to mask the broad powers this gives to law enforcement to uncover who’s behind all kinds of anonymous speech, without any consideration for the First Amendment protections for anonymous speech. This kind of law seems ripe for abuse by law enforcement, and the ACLU notes that Rhode Island law enforcement has already been known to seek this kind of info under questionable reasons:

Fears about the scope of this bill are not exaggerated. In the past year, there have been two highly publicized incidents of police seeking to track down the posters of comments posted online about political figures. Last fall, the Rhode Island ACLU called on Narragansett’s Police Chief to drop criminal ?cyberstalking? charges lodged against two town residents in separate incidents. Under this bill, police could unilaterally issue subpoenas to obtain the information.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Rhode Island Says Police Can Decloak Anonymous People Online If They Find Them Offensive”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
42 Comments
Michael says:

Two can play...

If its going to be an online “war” between government and the people on an internet battlefield, I think the government will find they are drastically outnumbered. When they start finding their identities exposed online and their faces plastered about I bet they are less likely to join these task forces… it happened to a dozen officers during the Toronto G20, and I know at least a couple ended up having to go into hiding to avoid the publicity and its repercussions on their families (google Officer Bubbles)

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Two can play...

“I think the government will find they are drastically outnumbered. “

Agreed. 7 billion of us and 1 million of them. Eventually someone will create a wikileaks style directory of PII and their actions for oppressive law enforcement types and politicians. We already see this exposing of peoples id’s for the lutz, from Anonymous and Lutzsec. What would happen if the estimated million Anonymous types actually got it into their collective heads to do this to lobbyists, politicians, three letter law enforcement types, **AA, and corporate heads? What if they also added all the wrongs these people have committed?

It would be a true nightmare for those exposed of wrong doing and on the receiving end. And if they have nothing to hide … then they shouldn’t be worried.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yet Mike Masnick quickly drops his pretensions about the 1st Amendment and anonymity on this site when it involves the poster Buck Lateral; IP snooping, inferences about his employment, veiled threats of revealing his identity, etc.

Real classy.

You really are one gigantic, hypocritical douchebag, aren’t you Masnick?

Jeni (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Good call-out, eejit. I’ve been harassed by a similar nasty battle-ax troll for over 6 years now. Once when she posted an incredibly hateful and ignorant post on a forum I ran via a proxy, I went ahead and posted the proxy IP.

She ran to her trashy forum and ranted that I “outed” “her” IP # (and that I “threatened” her, thus informing me that what I suspected was true – it was her making the post.

It was an IP from a proxy out of China.

You trolls really need to learn a simple lesson my 3rd grade teacher taught me: Think before you speak.

RD says:

Re: Re:

“Yet Mike Masnick quickly drops his pretensions about the 1st Amendment and anonymity on this site when it involves the poster Buck Lateral; IP snooping, inferences about his employment, veiled threats of revealing his identity, etc.

Real classy.

You really are one gigantic, hypocritical douchebag, aren’t you Masnick?”

Everyone else let you off way too light on this one.

Listen douchetard. The first amendment speech protections apply to the GOVERNMENT not being able to restrict (or create a law that does) your speech. When you go to a privately owned place, say a club or restaurant or a blog where you can leave comments, there is no such obligation. Sorry, thats just how it is. Dont like it? Go away then, or go to another country that has a first amendment-like protections on speech in private places. Oh thats right, there isnt any. Tough shit for you then.

Anonymous Coward says:

If it’s really “for the children” then there should be a clause stating anyone over 18 is exempt. But of course, in the Police State, they can’t possibly allow that. Ever. We need to make sure we can ID *anyone* *anytime* for *any circumstance*.

Here’s a simple 3 step process on how to avoid all this:
1) Sell your soul to Satan
2) Apply to become a police officer
3) promise you will arrest innocent people for random reasons

And there you have it. With those 3 simple steps, you can make your life so much more pleasant. Sure you’ll be hated by everyone, but your govt will love you, give you promotions and raises. How can you lose?

Ameya (profile) says:

The real question is (something which this post does not answer) what will they do with the names, IP, whatnot post having acquired them? They can’t ARREST someone for basically being a jerk. And unless they supply the information to the affected/influenced/commented on parties (thus allowing them to sue, harass, send hitmen to kill), there is unlikely to be a problem here.

chuck says:

Re: Re:

Well, to start with they can access a lot of your personal records once they have your name and phish away for anything even remotely illegal. Visit you at home and harass you (from your porch) in front of your neighbors, even use things they find to convince a judge to issue a warrant so they can toss your home and phish some more. There is a wide variety of things they can do and get away with it causing your life to suffer.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re:

They can call my Portuguese proxy and ask them to give me up, but good luck getting past their privacy laws. Odds are, they are going to tell you to pound sand…. but if you do somehow manage to get through their 10 miles of red tape and bureaucracy… you may find that they spit out the ip address assigned to the holiday inn express open wifi network down the street from my house…..lol

these guys are so clueless….

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Just goes to show..

“Here?s how social isolation develops. At the start of their careers, young cops believe that the world is divided into ‘good people’ and ‘bad people.’ The socialization pattern of the police academy soon has the officers redesigning this dichotomy to ‘good people’ (cops) and ‘other people.’ The ‘other people’ soon become ‘as*holes.’ Young officers begin seeing the world as just cops and ‘as*holes,’ but soon have a rude awakening when they find that veteran cops sometimes refer to officers from other agencies as ‘as*holes.’ The social isolation pattern deepens. Now the world is divided into ‘cops in their department’ and ‘as*holes.’ Social isolation continues to narrow until it’s ‘uniform cops in my district or precinct on swing shift”; everybody else is an “as*hole.’ After a few years, the average cop concludes, ‘It?s me and my partner’ and the rest of you are ‘as*holes.’ Eventually he says, ‘I’m not so sure about my partner. Sometimes he can be a real as*hole.'”

From “The Brotherhood of Biochemistry: Its Implications for a Police Career,” by Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D., Published in Understanding Human Behavior for Effective Police Work, H.E. Russell and A. Beigel, Third Edition, 1990, Basic Books, Inc., New York

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Just goes to show..

Let’s say that someone in another state, say, Missouri, had been a victim of a crime perpetrated by those who are supposed to uphold the law. He posts something like, “‘TROOPER’ BRAD ODLE (A/K/A B.D. ODLE) OF THE MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL IS A THIEF. HE HAS BEEN KNOWN TO STEAL FROM A PERSON. NEITHER HE NOR HIS COHORTS IN TROOP G CAN BE TRUSTED”.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Hyman Rosen (profile) says:

Firstt Amendment Anonymity

You are wrong about first amendment anonymity. A person is permitted to make anonymous statements in various ways, but this does not mean that the government may not attempt to find out who that person is. McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3281990700387373626, is a good example – Ohio attempted to ban unsigned leaflets and the Supreme Court said that was unconstitutional.

In fact, laws banning investigation and “outing” should themselves be unconstitutional under the first amendment. You have the right to try to be anonymous, but everyone else has the right to try to find out who you are.

sta303 (profile) says:

demonocracy

Unfortunately, the People have to cast their ballots with a certain degree of intelligence. Otherwise, democracy can be as evil as any totalitarian regime. You really can’t blame the government without blaming the People. Americans have become so paranoid (thank you, media) and so scared of every little offense that we are quickly becoming a nation of wimps, looking at government to protect us from every hurtful word or nasty glance, even at the expense of our most treasured liberties. Orwell was right on – only government will not be using the TVs to watch us, they ARE using our computers….

Nicedoggy says:

How will they deal with anonymous forums?

Will all that be outlawed?
Proxies, VPN’s and other things that can not be controlled by that jurisdiction will need to be outlawed?
Will they force people to register first to use any service?

I don’t see how that law can be reasonably enforced outside a police state(i.e. like Iran and China and even then it would be difficult).

Whatnow (profile) says:

Filming cops

There was a long story on NPR about cops making it illegal for you to film them. From the Cops side there were two sides more filming would improve their performance. It act professional as if you were always on camera.
The other side was it would make us look bad. You will look bad if you are acting like a jerk and abusing your position.
There have been a number of cases the cop was absolved of charges against them because the video showed how big of a jerk the person the cop was trying to arrest was acting.

My take is if the reason you get warrants from an outside party is the second opinion that stops bad cops. It also stops lazy cops that get the feeling the rules don’t apply to them. Most little rules don’t apply to them like speeding so that list for some cops gets longer and longer.
On the free speech that only applies to Government and political speech. You are not free to stand in your neighborhood at 2 AM or really any other time and scream at the top of your lungs for hours or scream Fire in a theater.
If you come in my house and I don’t care for your conversation I can kick you out. This or any other private site can do the same.

Whatnow (profile) says:

Filming cops

There was a long story on NPR about cops making it illegal for you to film them. From the Cops side there were two sides more filming would improve their performance. It act professional as if you were always on camera.
The other side was it would make us look bad. You will look bad if you are acting like a jerk and abusing your position.
There have been a number of cases the cop was absolved of charges against them because the video showed how big of a jerk the person the cop was trying to arrest was acting.

My take is if the reason you get warrants from an outside party is the second opinion that stops bad cops. It also stops lazy cops that get the feeling the rules don’t apply to them. Most little rules don’t apply to them like speeding so that list for some cops gets longer and longer.
On the free speech that only applies to Government and political speech. You are not free to stand in your neighborhood at 2 AM or really any other time and scream at the top of your lungs for hours or scream Fire in a theater.
If you come in my house and I don’t care for your conversation I can kick you out. This or any other private site can do the same.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop Β»

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...