In a very interesting case, Saffold v. Plain Dealer Publishing Co., a state court judge (Shirley Strickland Saffold) is suing the Cleveland Plan Dealer for stating that comments posted on the newspaper’s website under the screen name “lawmiss” originated from a computer used by the judge and/or her daughter. Some of these comments related to cases before Judge Saffold.
In an interesting and thoughtful critique of Danielle Citron’s Cyber Civil Rights, Michael Froomkin argues that Danielle’s proposal to require ISPs to maintain records of IP addresses will spell “the complete elimination of anonymity on the US portion of the Internet in order to root out hateful speech.” Anonymous speech should be strongly protected, as it is key to allowing people to express themselves candidly and openly, without fear of reprisal. It is especially important to promote dissenting views that are outside the mainstream of conventional thought. But the key issue with anonymity online is: How much do we want to protect it? Anonymous speech can lead to harmful defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as criminal conduct, such as the spread of child porn. Is there a way to protect anonymity yet not let it get too out of hand?