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Proposed New Jersey Laws Would Chill Free Speech
EFF and Other Groups Call for Bills' Withdrawal
San Francisco - A diverse coalition of companies, public interest organizations, and legal scholars, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), craigslist, Public Citizen, the US Internet Industry Association (USIIA), the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and Professors Lyrissa C. Barnett Lidsky and Jennifer M. Urban, sent an open letter today to three New Jersey assemblymen, urging them to withdraw their support from two bills designed to eliminate anonymous online speech.
Assembly bills A1327 and A2623 would require Internet service providers to record users' identities and reveal them in any claim of defamation. While aimed at curbing online bad actors, the bills instead run afoul of the First Amendment—which protects the right to speak anonymously—as well as a federal law designed to protect speech in online fora. The bills would require identification of an online poster before the facts were resolved, leading to a flood of unsubstantiated claims designed simply to unmask online speakers.
"Protecting anonymity is vital to maintaining the diversity of viewpoints on the Internet," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Keeping online debates robust enables democracy, even if it allows name-calling and strongly worded opinions about political figures."
The open letter calls for Assemblymen Peter J. Biodi, Wilfredo Caraballo, and Upendra J. Chivukula not to waste taxpayer resources in defending these bills that will inevitably be struck down in court. New Jersey courts are already handling claims of defamation online in a careful and constitutionally appropriate manner, balancing a speaker's anonymity rights with the merits of the plaintiff's claim. The well-established standard in New Jersey and elsewhere for deciding whether to order the identification of anonymous defendants has functioned well to separate ill-founded lawsuits from cases in which identification is appropriate.
As evidence of this balanced approach, the open letter points to the cases available for review on a web site maintained by the Cyberslapp Coalition—several of whose members signed the open letter—at www.cyberslapp.org. The Cyberslapp web site provides briefs, evidence, and opinions from nearly four dozen "John Doe" cases in which the standard has been discussed and applied. The site, which permits search both by keyword and by state of decision, is provided free of charge as a resource for litigants on both sides of Doe disputes.
For the full text of the open letter:
The Cyberslapp Coalition:
Electronic Frontier Foundation