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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  1. icon
    Planespotter (profile), 20 Oct 2011 @ 11:07am

    So I can use something that hides my actual IP address, post an anonymous comment that is deeemed libelous and sit back while the blog/site owner takes the rap for it... cooooolio!

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