Move to identify anonymous blog defamers rejectedPIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A move to help identify people who anonymously post libelous messages on blogs and other Internet sites was rejected Monday by South Dakota lawmakers after opponents said the state would have trouble regulating the worldwide network.
By: Associated Press, Worthington Daily Globe
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A move to help identify people who anonymously post libelous messages on blogs and other Internet sites was rejected Monday by South Dakota lawmakers after opponents said the state would have trouble regulating the worldwide network.
The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-3 to kill a bill that would have required those who operate Internet sites to keep logs of Internet Protocol addresses so they could identify people who contribute libelous messages anonymously or under false names.
House Republican Leader Bob Faehn of Watertown, the committee’s chairman, said he agreed with the measure’s intent but doubted it would accomplish much.
“This is a global issue, and I doubt that South Dakota is going to have an effect,” said Faehn, a longtime radio broadcaster.
Committee members said current law already allows people to seek the identity of those who have libeled them anonymously.
The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Noel Hamiel, R-Mitchell, said his measure would not limit free speech rights.
Many comments posted on blogs and other Internet sites are written by people who remain anonymous or use false names, Hamiel said. If those comments amount to libel or slander, a victim might have a tough time finding out the writer’s real identity, he said.
“If you anonymously write something on the site and it’s defamatory, the person you defame must have recourse in finding out who you are,” Hamiel said.
The bill would have required operators of Internet sites to keep logs that would provide the identification and location of those who post comments without giving their true names. They would have been compelled to provide that information only in response to a court order in a libel lawsuit.
Hamiel and other lawmakers said a federal law protects operators of Internet sites from liability in lawsuits dealing with defamation.
Pat Powers of Brookings, operator of the South Dakota War College blog, said the government should not force bloggers to keep information on those who post comments because that could discourage people from debating political ideas. The bill also could have forced children to keep records to identify those who visit their blogs, he said.
“Much of the concern is this is a government mandate to collect the information of people who come on your Web site,” Powers said. “We’re not a totalitarian society. We’re not China. We expect a little freer discourse than that.”
Steve Sibson of Mitchell, operator of a blog called Sibby Online, said he supported the bill because it would protect anonymous free speech while holding accountable those who commit libel.
Dave Bordewyk of the South Dakota Newspaper Association spoke against the bill. The state’s 11 daily newspapers generally allow readers to comment anonymously on news stories, but the papers block those comments that are profane, contain threats or are libelous, he said.
Bob Miller, a lobbyist for South Dakota Funeral Directors, said funeral homes also do not want to collect Internet addresses to identify those who post anonymous messages of sympathy when someone dies.
Rep. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, said state law should help hold people accountable if they libel others under the cloak of anonymity. He said a blogger falsely accused him of throwing someone out of the family convenience store because the person wore a T-shirt carrying the name of a Democratic candidate, but he was unable to get that blogger to retract the incorrect report.
“I think the players in the game have to be held to some journalistic standards,” Greenfield said.