"Kentucky lawmaker Tim Couch has proposed a bill that would criminalize anonymous Internet posting. Web site and forum operators would be forced to collect and publicly disclose identifying information about all of the visitors who post content on their sites. Failing to do so would lead to a fine of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
The bill, which extends Chapter 369 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, would mandate collection of the complete name, mailing address, and e-mail address of all visitors who post Internet content. Web sites would have to display names next to all relevant content and establish procedures that enable anyone to obtain the rest of the information. The bill stipulates that mailing address and e-mail address only have to be supplied to supplicants in cases where someone has posted "false or defamatory" information."
This kind of legislation seems to be intended to increase accountability in online conduct, especially in areas such as cyber-bullying. The cost to freedom of speech and subsequently to intellectual freedom, however, would be very high indeed. It is not difficult to imagine how the application of this bill would increase individual self-censorship and compromise the privacy of many, whether proven cyberbullies or not. Here we might as well note that on many social networking sites, cyberbullying is already carried out by people who post under their own names! From a political standpoint, it is difficult to imagine how this bill would fit into the admittedly messy and delightfully chaotic framework of healthy democratic discourse. The implications for any kind of online reference service offered by Kentucky libraries are also problematic, at best. As a fellow observer remarked, "This bill would pretty much grind the Internet to a halt, at least in Kentucky."
In fairness, Couch seems to recognize that this bill would likely not stand against the 1st Amendment and has little chance of actually passing. When interviewed by The Herald-Leader, Couch claimed that he was more hoping that the bill would raise awareness about cyberbullying and the posting of other "unkind comments" on the web. But if a half-hearted attempt at raising awareness is truly his motivation, then why go to the expense and trouble of threatening privacy, intellectual freedom, and democratic discourse with the levers of government?