What Could Possibly Go Wrong part 284

June 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

The U.K. is looking to pass a law/set of laws that would compel individual websites to reveal the identities of those who post defamatory comments on their forums. “Trolls,” apparently. Quoth Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark, via Reuters:

“As the law stands, individuals can be the subject of scurrilous rumour and allegation on the web with little meaningful remedy against the person responsible,” said Clarke in a statement.

“The government wants a libel regime for the Internet that makes it possible for people to protect their reputations effectively but also ensures that information online can’t be easily censored by casual threats of litigation against website operators.”

Both members of the public and companies have made angry threats to take legal action against Internet ‘trolls’, who circulate false rumours about them online.

This matters because a) once again the term “troll” is being used synonymously with internet bad guy, specifically bad guys who damage corporations’ reputations (um ok) and b) because the laws would essentially incentivize abolishment of anonymous forum registration:

Under the new proposals, website operators would act as intermediaries, trying to resolve the dispute between author and complainant.

If attempts at resolution failed, they would be required to hand over the subscriber’s contact details so the complainant could pursue legal action against the author. The website itself would be protected against any action as long as it complied with these rules. 

I discuss problems with a) here. But b) is just as problematic, if not more so — though framed as a protective/preemptive measure against defamation (WON’T SOMEBODY *PLEASE* THINK OF THE CORPORATIONS??), the unintended (…?) consequence of these laws would be to kneecap anonymity. How effective the laws would be is a separate question; it would depend on how much identifying information websites were required to collect. For example full names? Pleased to make your acquaintance, my name is Ass O’Malley. Email addresses? AOL keyword: lol. IP info: good luck I’m behind 7 proxies. Etc —- the point is that the laws would at the very least present a roadblock to anonymity, all in the name of protecting users against the scourge of trolling. You know, that thing they haven’t bothered defining.

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