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 August 31, 2009  Posted by  Online

The Baltimore Sun has an editorial concerning anonymous online speech in the aftermath of the Cohen v. Google case. While some bloggers and critics have used that case to call for a reduction in the use of anonymous speech, the paper recognizes that the right to anonymous speech must be vigorously protected while allowing people to protect themselves from bullies and liars. To which this pseudoanonymous blogger and privacy advocate says, “hear, hear!” The editors write, in part:

[…]

However, Ms. Port’s case highlights the many legitimate and lesser-known issues where a person’s right to anonymous speech – treasured since the days of Publius and Silence Dogood – clashes with healthy, democratic discourse and U.S. libel law.

In the landmark 1995 ruling in “McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission,” the Supreme Court recognized that “protections for anonymous speech are vital for democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views. … Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.” While few care about New York fashionista infighting, everyone should be concerned about Google handing over its customers’ private information. Many anonymous bloggers hide their true identities as protection against vengeful employers, governments, exes or stalkers.

Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that defends citizens’ rights on the Internet, is fighting the Bush administration-era warrantless wiretapping, seeking the release of FBI surveillance rules, and investigating the Google Book Search settlement, which threatens to strip away the privacy and anonymity of readers everywhere. These are the cases that Ms. Cohen’s lawsuit should bring to the forefront. They illustrate how precious our privacy is, and why we should fight for it, while also underlining that we must keep in mind what’s good for the people and the safety of all.

Our whistle-blowers, victims of domestic abuse and community activists need to be protected with anonymity, just as our bullied minors and libeled business owners need to be able to defend themselves from malicious liars. These are serious issues that deserve a deeper conversation than the cheap jokes inspired by this Page Six scandal.

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