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Proposed UK Online Libel Rules Would Restrict Anonymous Posting 219

judgecorp writes "A Parliamentary Committee in the UK has suggested that sites should be protected against libel claims against contributors — as long as those contributors are identified. Anonymous postings should be taken down if someone complains of libel in them, in a set of proposals which online community groups have described as 'chilling.'"
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Proposed UK Online Libel Rules Would Restrict Anonymous Posting

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  • Anyone Surprised? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Friday October 21, 2011 @12:59AM (#37787726)
    It was only a matter of time before the absurdly loose libel laws and near total lack of privacy law in the UK combined in some manner even more horrifying than either of them were individually.

    Synergy at its darkest.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 21, 2011 @01:18AM (#37787800)

    The internet was for a long time, a "wild west". This bought a magnification of human nature. It brought astounding good, people communicating instantly with others all around the world about their interests, collaborations to accomplish amazing things, freedom of communication, cross cultural contacts. It brought also trolls, idiots, collections of self reinforcing stupidity, harassment, greed.

    But above all, it brought something the authorities couldn't control. And that scared them - it made them vulnerable to their own version of the Arab Spring, even if peacefully so, by shining a big light on their actions. It meant people couldn't be protected "for their own good". It meant there was communication they couldn't control. That couldn't be allowed to stand. The good that anonymity does will be lost, because of the bad it allows.

    So: it's inevitable that it becomes much harder to be anonymous online, not just in the UK, but in the USA and elsewhere. Sure, those in the know will post through anonymous proxies and VPNs and so on, at least until such encrypted traffic is blocked. And then there is steganography, but at each of these steps, the number of people knowledgeable enough to do it becomes 3, maybe 4 orders of magnitude smaller.

    It's only a matter of time until the internet becomes the most powerful panopticon the world has ever known. There aren't enough people who care, to stop it from happening.

  • Chilling?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mvdwege ( 243851 ) <mvdwege@mail.com> on Friday October 21, 2011 @02:15AM (#37788018) Homepage Journal

    Oh yes, the right to anonymously slander and libel people is such an important right, taking that away would be chilling.

    All the proposal says is that if you run a site, you'd better be willing to moderate the anonymous trolls unless you want to be accused of libel. And to be fair, if an anonymous libel is posted on your site, it's hard to see who's legally liable but yourself when you let it stand.

    Really, whining that this is an affront to free speech is missing the point. A right is a right as long as it doesn't infringe on others' rights. Free speech ends at libel and slander.

  • by Anthony Mouse ( 1927662 ) on Friday October 21, 2011 @02:18AM (#37788032)

    This is better than the current situation, where Slashdot would be seen as responsible even before they failed to take down the anonymous comment.

    Is that the current situation? It would seem like if it was then Slashdot would not still be here.

    (Basically, the law requires that *someone* accept responsibility for remarks so that they can be sued; if you want to let people post lies anonymously, then the website has to accept the responsibility for them.)

    And if you want to post the truth anonymously so that those whose crimes you're disclosing can't retaliate, well, sucks to be you apparently.

  • Re:Chilling?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anthony Mouse ( 1927662 ) on Friday October 21, 2011 @02:37AM (#37788112)

    Free speech ends at libel and slander.

    You have a human right to anonymously post true information. The problem is that this comes into conflict, not with libel laws, but with their enforcement: Someone whose identity is unknown cannot defend themselves against a charge of libel. So we have a problem: If we force the anonymous poster to reveal his identity in order to defend the truth of his statements, there is no longer the ability to have truthful anonymous speech -- anyone can make the accusation and force the poster to choose between the ability to be anonymous and the ability to communicate. But if we allow the post to stand because of that, you have something that is potentially libelous (but not proven to be in an adversary proceeding), which continues to be available.

    Now if you throw in the fact that a post by someone anonymous will have extremely low credibility unless it can be independently verified, which mitigates the damage done by a potentially libelous statement, it weighs strongly in favor of protecting anonymous speech at the expense of people having to grow thicker skin.

  • Re:Libel & slander (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Friday October 21, 2011 @03:34AM (#37788320)

    "You're a pedophile and hurt small chidren!"

    "Got any proof of that?"

    "Ur, no. But you still are!"

    "Okay then. No harm done. You just proved yourself to be an idiot, yes?"

    "Uhh ..."

    Random person on the street:
    "tqk is a pedo who hurts small children".

    Headline in the Daily Fail:
    Mr tqk is a known Paedophile who has done great harm to a great number of children.

    Both are lies to be sure but one has the potential to destroy your life the other will be dismissed as insane ramblings.

    If your name connected to an accusation of paedophilia is published by a large publisher with readership in the millions would you not be upset. Further more would you not want the publisher punished for this? Libel laws grew to their woeful state because certain publishers began to lie in their headlines to influence the public. When an organisation has the ability to influence what a large number of people think, should they not be held responsible for what they say. It's the old "fire in a crowded theatre" argument, sure, you can yell fire in a crowded theatre but you'll be charged for it because you knew what you were doing was wrong yet did it deliberately.

    Libel laws were created to add responsibility to speech, not to take away free speech. They are still needed for this purpose. Exactly how they should fulfil that purpose is a matter of some debate.

  • by delinear ( 991444 ) on Friday October 21, 2011 @06:35AM (#37789074)
    In other words another law made by people who have no concept of the technologies they're legislating for (how easy it is to use TOR, or piggyback on someone's open wireless or whatever).

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson