This week, Florida state legislature is considering one of the most dangerous bills we’ve seen this year; a bill that would make it illegal to run any website or web service anonymously.
The bill would require anyone who runs a website or web service to “disclose his or her true and correct name, physical address, and telephone number or e-mail address”, effectively making it impossible for anyone to run an online service without being firmly on the record.
Whether they’re hosted in Florida or not, many websites would be forced to give up their anonymity by this bill – and for what reason, it’s not clear. While the bill makes reference to copyright laws, it could also apply to bloggers, writers and businesses that host their own content on their site, if there is a link to the work of another. These bloggers, writers and businesses would find themselves unmasked by this bill.
Anonymity isn’t something that the guilty hide behind; anonymity is a way we can protect ourselves, especially (as in the case of bloggers and online commenters) when we are criticizing authority or the way our countries are run.
The ability to speak anonymously is an important free speech right. Forcing website owners to identify themselves violates the First Amendment.