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Anonymity and free speech



Instead of discussing whether or not Esther Dyson or other EFF board members
are personally comfortable with anonymity, let's talk about whether or not
the EFF and its board members believe that the First Amendment provides a
right to speak and associate anonymously. (I believe that the First
Amendment gives everyone the right to wear a t-shirt which says "I am an
asshole." But I have no interest in wearing such a t-shirt. And so on.) 

I believe that it does, and that the Supreme Court has already made that
clear. In [email protected], I'm thinking of _NAACP v. Alabama
ex rel Patterson_, _Talley_, and _McIntrye v. Ohio Elections Commission_.
(Sorry for the lack of cites; 95% of my stuff is still in boxes and I'm
sending this via laptop and a Ricochet modem.)

If the right to speak/associate in "real life" is protected by the First
Amendment, I don't see why it wouldn't be on computers and networks which
are located inside the United States. And if that right is based upon the
Constitution, it will take a constitutional amendment or a big sea change in
the Supreme Court to take it away.
(I wonder if the decision in _McIntrye_ would have gone the other way if Ms.
McIntrye were selling drugs via anonymous message pools instead of
discussing school funding via windshield flyers.) Discussions about the
utility of anonymity would be more useful if we were designing a
communication system or a constituion from scratch; but that's not our
current situation. Is there serious debate about whether or not the
Constitution and the Internet allow anonymous communication? (I'm not asking
a rhetorical question. If someone's familiar with an argument to the
contrary, please tell me about it.) Both the Constitution and the Internet
are difficult to modify quickly; we probably have anonymity (like it or not)
for at least a few more years. 

(I'm not trying to imply that US law is the only law, or that the rest of
the world doesn't existy. But I don't know poo about the right to anonymity
in other nations; and to a certain extent anonymity anywhere on the Internet
is the same as anonymity everywhere on the Internet. Are other readers aware
of other jurisdictions where anonymous speech is considered a right?)
 
----
Greg Broiles
[email protected]
http://www.io.com/~gbroiles