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NY Republican Proposes Censorship Of All Anonymous Writing Online

There is legislation that is poorly thought out. There is legislation that is risky in its consequences. Then, there is legislation that is just plain idiotic.

In the just plain idiotic category goes S6779, a bill written by Republican New York State Senator Thomas F. O’Mara. The law would give any person, business or organization the right to force the removal from a web site of an anonymously written piece of material unless the true legal name, IP address and street address of the writer is posted along with the original written material and confirmed by the owner of the web site where the content is posted.

The law is necessary, says Senator O’Mara, to protect “a person’s right to know who is behind an anonymous internet posting”. Who says people have a legal right to know what other people are saying about them? The Constitution of the United States has no such provision in it, and neither does the Constitution of the State of New York.

thomas o'mara

In fact, the Constitution of the State of New York may prohibit pieces of legislation of the sort that Thomas O’Mara has introduced. The state’s constitution declares, “The legislature shall not pass a private or local bill in any of the following cases: Changing the names of persons…” It seems to be that there’s a good argument to be made that S6779 is a law that forces people to change the names people use for themselves, and is therefore unconstitutional.

Our national Constitution has a little old thing in it that’s called the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees both the right to free speech and freedom of the press, both of which would be denied by the censorship facilitated by S6779.

If the New York State Assembly and Senate pass this bill, what’s next? Is there going to be a law prohibiting a spoken conversation without the prior exchange of drivers’ licenses?

Thomas O’Mara justifies his censorship legislation by saying that bullying online must be stopped. Why must online bullying behavior receive especially harsh treatment, while offline bullying gets a free pass?

This legislation seems like an attempt to stifle all speech online. It contains no provision requiring proof of bullying, or restricting the censorship to cases in which bullying is even alleged to be involved.

Besides, the legislation is poorly written, with a loophole a mile wide. It only applies to web sites that enable interactive discussion: “a web site including social networks, blogs, forums, message boards or any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages”. So, even if this bill was passed, “cyberbullying” could go on as before, using web sites where there is no comment or discussion function.

Another idiotic flaw in the legislation is that it contains no restriction on the original date of publication of material. That means that, if Senator O’Mara’s legislation were signed into law, if a person published this poem…

I walk in loneliness through the greenwood
for I have none to go with me.
Since I have lost my friend by not being good
I walk in loneliness through the greenwood.
I’ll send him word and make it understood
that I will be good company.
I walk in loneliness through the greenwood
for I have none to go with me.

…on a blog with a comments section, then anyone could legally force the censorship of the poem. The poem, you see, was created by an anonymous writer over 800 years ago. It would be impossible to find the street address of the writer, and so the poem would have to be removed.

For that reason, I hereby rename S6779 as The Thomas O’Mara Medieval Poetry Censorship Act.

If writing bills like this is how Thomas O’Mara chooses to spend his time in the New York State Senate, why don’t the voters in his district just send him home to avoid further embarrassment?

3 comments to NY Republican Proposes Censorship Of All Anonymous Writing Online

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