It's not often that I agree with the Herald-Leader's John Cheves and Page One, but both lead me to conclude that a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden to ban anonymous web comments is one of the dumbest attempts of a pathetic legislative session.
The bill, according to Cheves,
would require anyone who contributes to a Web site to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that Web site. Their full name then would be used whenever they posted a comment.
Web site operators who violated the disclosure law would be fined $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
Couch admits that his bill might conflict with the first amendment's right to free speech. Consequently, he says that he won't "push it."
And he admits that it is unworkable and unenforceable. "The state can try to pass some rules, but I don't really think it would do anything."
The jurisdictional issues would be a full employment act for lawyers: the extra-territorial reach of a Kentucky statute. Just yesterday, this blog was read by people in Australia, France, Greece and the United Arab Emirates. Good luck trying to serve those readers with a summons, if they comment anonymously.
I prefer that people use their real names when commenting on blogs; it elevates a comment's credibility above the level of, say, graffiti. But that's a question of personal preference for the person making the comment or moderating the blog. Until Tim Couch and his colleagues in Frankfort can figure out how to run state government, they'd best not take on anything else, like running the Internet.
If speech on the Internet is actually dangerous, then Homeland Security can track down the author (unless Nancy Pelosi has her way). Couch's interview with Cheves, however, suggests that he is concerned about petty nastiness rather than terroristic threats. But short of enlisting the aid of Homeland Security (who has bigger fish to fry) how would Couch even find the commentators, given that they're anonymous?
Couch does not explain why he bothered to file a bill that he won't "push" because it's probably unconstitutional. What a waste of time and money, especially given the many genuine issues that Frankfort needs to address.
Not an Update but nonetheless: Even the Founding Fathers would be found liable under Couch's bill. The Federalist Papers, after all, were written anonymously, under the pen name "Publius." If Couch tried to limit the bill's application to just Internet speech rather than printed books, he'd simply compound its constitutional infirmities.