House Bills Address Anonymous Libel on the Internet
by Cory Klumper
The South Dakota Blogosphere is all a-twitter about two bills in the state House. The bills are aimed at identifying anonymous posters of libelous material, but bloggers say they infringe on free speech.
Bloggers say House Bills 1277 and 1278 limit free speech and put a burden on content providers by requiring them to keep logs and act like traditional media publishers. John Arneson is a lawyer in Sioux Falls. He says the proposed laws aren’t unconstitutional, but could count as a form of prior restraint on the first amendment.
“While it may not be totally unreasonable, I do think it does have a tendency to restrict the flow of information and ideas and the exchange of those, and that’s critical,” says Arneson. “Not everything we hear is going to be good, but if we were to start closing doors and windows on all that we do hear and say and what we want to hear and say I think we’d be much worse off.”
Arneson says the state would be better off if courts decide on individual cases. He says House bill 12-78 essentially puts into law a 2001 case from a Federal District Court in Washington State.
Both bills were proposed by Rep. Noel Hamiel of Mitchell. He says they provide a way to discover the identity of someone who posts false accusations online.
“These bills, if they were to pass in some form or another, would make the process much more clear,” says Hamiel. “And they do distinguish between a content provider, which is provided near blanket immunity by the Communications Decency Act, and the anonymous person who posts the information.”
Hamiel says neither bill infringes upon free speech as the bloggers claim. He says that anonymous free speech is protected by the first amendment, but libel is not protected. The bills await hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.