UK Parliament Recommends Websites Be Liable For Anonymous Comments If They Won't Reveal Identities

from the privacy? dept

Last month we wrote about a ridiculous policy suggestion by a US lawyer who thought it would be a good idea to make websites liable for anonymous comments, if they don’t reveal who posted the info. We thought this was just some crazy “out there” idea that wasn’t getting serious consideration anywhere. Tragically, that appears to be false. A UK parliamentary committee is suggesting that a good policy would be that websites need to reveal the identity of anonymous posters, or be liable for what’s in those comments. Think of it as the opposite idea of Section 230 of the CDA in the US. Whereas Section 230 protected websites from being liable for the speech of their users, it seems like the UK would like to go in the other direction… and is cluelessly blaming anonymity in the process.

The full proposal is a bit more involved, and seems to have some good ideas, including reducing the ridiculously high cost of libel lawsuits in the UK. It also notes that UK law already makes it such that websites can be liable for user comments, so they actually see this proposal as an improvement. It would require that any site hosting a comment that people complain about also post the complaint near the original comment. But if the comment is anonymous, the site needs to remove the comment immediately or face liability. They try to deal with the situation in which someone has a good reason for being anonymous by suggesting that a website could apply for a “leave up” order from the court. But, of course, that shifts the burden to the websites, many of which will just take the speech down or identify the user.

Like so many others these days, this report appears to confuse the fact that some people do obnoxious things while anonymous with the idea that anonymity is the problem.

The committee criticises comments made anonymously, which it says “may encourage free speech but it also discourages responsibility” and sets out moves it hopes will lead to a “cultural shift towards a general recognition that unidentified postings are not to be treated as true, reliable or trustworthy”.

You know what discourages responsibility? When you get to pin liability on a third party who didn’t create the content in the first place.

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Comments on “UK Parliament Recommends Websites Be Liable For Anonymous Comments If They Won't Reveal Identities”

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22 Comments
Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Speaking of Responsibility

or be liable for what’s in those comments.
+
may encourage free speech but it also discourages responsibility

I think this law discourages responsibility. It is trying to lay blame at somebody’s feet because they don’t want to help you. Imagine if we had laws like this everywhere.

A cop pulls up alongside you as you walk on the sidewalk. He asks you where the guy who sells weed is on the street. You don’t know. So he arrests you for protecting the seller’s identity and charges you with selling weed. Seems about equivalent to me (since an IP doesn’t represent a person’s identity how could the website know who they were?).

josh_m (profile) says:

The Internet has largely replaced the “public square” forum for discourse. Sure, anonymity can be abused when the speech is defamatory, but this action is the very definition of over-inclusiveness. I’ll let SCOTUS say it:

?Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.? Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 64 (1960)

Yakko Warner (profile) says:

The new DOS attack for British websites

Get a botnet to post anonymous defamatory comments en masse. The site owner will have to spend considerable resources identifying the comments and deleting them, or shut down their comment system completely (which, depending on how valuable the forums are to the site, could hurt or kill it).

The trick may be getting the botnet to come up with comments with enough variety so they can’t be caught with a simple pattern match, but there are plenty of forums that offer a rich source of defamatory comments.

ike says:

What exactly is the difference between an anonymous comment and one that isn’t?

Am I suddenly no longer anonymous if I put “ike” in the name box instead of “Anonymous”?

Is the difference whether I give an email address or not?

Is the difference whether I give a verified email address or not?

Is the difference whether I give a verified email address from an email provider can and does respond to identification requests or not?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

From the country that gave us super duper injunctions to protect those wealthy enough to get them, decrying people being anonymous seems like ohhh whats that word….

From the country that let everyone come to their shores and sue anyone anywhere because someone in the country might have read a something that hurt their feelings… what is that word…

From the country that let a newspaper spy on stars, royals, interfere with the police and an investigation…. why can’t I think of that word….

From the country that let pseudoscience sue the man who had balls enough to call them on their lies…. its a good word….

Talk amongst yourselves… I need to ponder this…

iBelieve says:

Freedom of Human Speech

I can say what ever I fucking want. If it appears to have put someone in harm’s way, then that will be decided by a jury trial. If I have revealed some top secret agenda, then that will be decided by a court of law. If I offended some race or ethnicity or group or office, then I am not opposed to their retaliation. If I commit liable or piss off the whole world, then I will surely pay for it one way or another. Don’t tell me what I can’t say. You are not my Mother.

Foobar says:

Plenty of websites already have effective comment moderation systems. So probably the desire is that websites should have effective moderation on comments, whether by public scoring of comments or otherwise, that makes it clear that the website itself is not endorsing libel by being negligent.

And if that isn’t what this legal stuff is about then it is clearly just stinkfest slimy lawyers making more income for themselves.

Danilo Rico says:

A economic question

There is program in the diferent councils of london that promote small business ideas? for example: If I want to open A “jacket potatos” small restaurant in one main street, will the gobertment support my idea? I will start to work again. that might help our economic. start to produce from the small business using as many brithis products as posible.

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