By Scott Tibbs, March 15, 2008
I have a love/hate relationship with anonymity on the Internet. On one hand, I understand that anonymous speech can help promote a free and open discussion of issues, especially from those who fear real-world retaliation for what they say. On the other hand, I have been very critical of anonymous cowards who hide behind a pseudonym to launch personal attacks on others without fear of being held accountable by name in a public forum. I also recognize that, in practice, anonymity (while not sinful in and of itself) is used in a sinful way most of the time. Anonymity becomes an excuse to behave in a way one would never behave if one's name were public.
However, it is not the role of government to mandate that all speech on the Internet be accompanied by a first and last name. Such a dramatic regulation on the content of speech would be struck down by the courts should it ever become law as an obvious and clear violation of the First Amendment, and such proposals generally have little chance of becoming law anyway. I have to wonder if the people who advocate removing the veil of privacy from the Internet would support forcing newspapers to attach the name of the people who write staff editorials.
Enter Kentucky Representative Tim Couch, who has filed a bill to require anyone who contributes to the content of a web site "to register their real name, address and e-mail address", according to wtvq.com. I found the text of the bill on www.kentucky.gov and posted it on Multi-Level Political Debate.
I find it hard to believe that Representative Couch would be so ignorant as to think the Kentucky state legislature could police the content of the Internet. How exactly would a state establish jurisdiction in the first place? Even the federal government cannot control content if the servers are hosted offshore, as we saw with the recent "Wiki Leaks" controversy. The site is still up, despite a federal judge's order that the domain be frozen. All Representative Couch has managed to do is make himself look like an uneducated country bumpkin and shame the state he serves.