Republicans Introduce Bill to end Anonymity on the Internet

This last week, Lamar Smith in the House and John Cornyn in the Senate introduced identical bills (H.R. 1076 and S. 436) to criminalize anonymous use of the Internet.

If passed, the legislation (entitled the Internet Safety Act of 2009) would require every person in America to register every single time they use the internet and to have their identity kept in records of every internet service provider they access for periods of two years, for purposes of access by the federal government. Section 5 of the Act reads:

A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least two years all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user.

Declan McCullagh of CNet points out the implications: your entire surfing history at home, at work, at every hotel, in every Wi-Fi cafe, at every library, in every university would be trackable and traceable back to you. Your entire history. Everything you do on the internet. All of it, tracked and traced back to you. All of it open to access by the federal government. Anonymity on the internet in the United States of America would be over and done. Considering that most forms of remote communication, including academic networking, support group communication, information access and social movement organizing pass through the internet these days, this law would enable the domestic government surveillance of all these civic activities.

This is no mere suggestion we’re talking about, either. It’s a mandate to end anonymity, a mandate reinforced by the cold hard steel of prison. Consider Section 3 of the bill:

Whoever, being an Internet content hosting provider or email service provider, knowingly engages in any conduct the provider knows or has reason to believe facilitates access to, or the possession of, child pornography (as defined in section 2256) shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

(b) Definitions- As used in this section–

`(1) the term `Internet content hosting provider’ means a service that–

`(A) stores, through electromagnetic or other means, electronic data, including the content of web pages, electronic mail, documents, images, audio and video files, online discussion boards, and weblogs;

Ten years in prison — not for possessing child pornography, not for trafficking in child pornography, but simply for being an internet service provider, a web page writer, a blogger, or a discussion board host who engages in any conduct that could facilitate any access to child pornography. Even if you don’t realize that, even if you don’t think that’s the case, if you have reason to believe it, you’re guilty of a serious federal offense.

Guess what that includes:

* Letting people post discussion board comments, comments, or guestbook anonymously or pseudonymously
* Letting people use anonymous proxy servers to post their messages.
* Letting those people post images on one’s blog or guestbook or discussion board.

If you just let people participate on your website without tracking each poster’s identity and without keeping an eagle eye on every one of those postings, then you have engaged in conduct that you should have reason to believe acts to facilitate access to child pornography.

The Internet Safety Act makes it a very dangerous place, not just to be an internet access company but also to be a writer or web page owner of almost any sort. If this bill passes, every hotel, office, library, school, barista and online writer will be required under penalty of law to participate in the squelching of anonymous community on the Internet.

If you’re thinking your way through the objection, “But our government wouldn’t interpret and act upon laws in such a draconian fashion,” stop and consider the track record of the last eight years, from the Bush administration through the Obama times that continue many of the very same policies.

The justification for this bill is couched in the language of protecting Americans from child pornography. I don’t agree with child pornography. I’m not going to even suggest a justification for it. But in the name of stopping child pornography, Cornyn and Smith have proposed a law that would place all online communication under the watch of Big Brother’s eye.

6 Comments

on “Republicans Introduce Bill to end Anonymity on the Internet
6 Comments on “Republicans Introduce Bill to end Anonymity on the Internet
  1. This law would require us at That’s My Congress to require readers to register, and to provide legally verifiable proof of identity, before making comments on our articles.

    There’s something in the Constitution that explicitly forbids this kind of constant surveillance mandated by the government: It’s called protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

  2. Yes to paragraph 1 of your comment. EFF has a good discussion of the legal definition of “electronic communication service” or “remote computing service.” See also the Department of Justice. “Electronic communication service” basically means any internet service provider, be it at a hotel, a coffee shop, a library’s wifi, or through an individual’s home. A “remote computing service” is defined in the law as “provision to the public of computer storage or processing services by means of an electronic communications system.” That has been decided by the courts to mean internet message boards systems and YouTube among other things. So if you have a website with interactive posting features then yes, this bill would appear to apply to you.

    Your claim of paragraph 2 is frankly murky to me, since the section of Title 18 amended by this law speaks both of warrants and “administrative subpoenas.” That’s why I’m not necessarily mentioning the 4th Amendment to the Constitution here, although it clearly is being violated at least in spirit.

  3. Wow. This seems like a really bad idea from Senator Cornyn. I think it is too broad and I agree with the Center for Democracy & Technology that this is invasive and unnecessary.

    Hopefully Congress will actually choose to open up a discussion about this. Now that they have passed the stimulus package, they should be able to move on to issues like this.

    I saw that the Friends of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is still asking people to give their opinion on the most important thing for Congress to do next. Then they are going to focus their efforts on getting Congress to accomplish what we actually want them to do.

    What do the other readers think Congress should do? Should they work against this Internet Safety Act? Should they work to prevent further exploitation of “for-the-children”-type bills? Or should they focus their efforts on completely different areas? Make sure to add your opinion so Congress can know what we want them to do next – http://www.friendsoftheuschamber.com/email/email4.cfm?id=200

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