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Nameless in Cyberspace: Anonymity on the Internet

December 8, 1999

Proposals to limit anonymous communications on the Internet would violate free speech rights long recognized by the Supreme Court. Anonymous and pseudonymous speech played a vital role in the founding of this country. Thomas Paine's Common Sense was first released signed, "An Englishman." Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, Samuel Adams, and others carried out the debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists using pseudonyms. Today, human rights workers in China and many other countries have reforged the link between anonymity and free speech. Given the importance of anonymity as a component of free speech, the cost of banning anonymous Internet speech would be enormous. It makes no sense to treat Internet speech differently from printed leaflets or books.

The Specter of Pervasiveness: Pacifica, New Media, and Freedom of Speech

February 12, 1998

Under the legal doctrine of pervasiveness, media such as television and radio get much less protection from censorship than do print media. The Supreme Court should reject the pervasiveness doctrine as a dangerously broad and vague excuse for speech regulation. If the doctrine applies to any medium, it could arguably apply to all media. The pervasiveness doctrine thus threatens to curtail the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech. The pervasiveness doctrine relies on a crabbed view of individual responsibility and property rights. We invite the broadcast media into our homes and alone bear the responsibility for controlling our children's access. The pervasiveness doctrine wrongly puts such choices in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. Technological advances threaten to lead to wider applications of the pervasiveness doctrine. As the Internet expands into one-to-many voice or video communications, courts might decide to treat it as the legal equivalent of pervasive radio or TV broadcasts.