Two last-minute bills got dumped into the hopper today. HB 1278 is the more egregious of the two, and Mr. Powers does an excellent job of explaining why it stinks. I'll take a swing at that bill later.
For the moment, I'd like to pick at the lesser of the two, HB 1277. This bill only specifies that "online content providers" can be sued to reveal "reasonably available" information "kept in the normal course of business" to help the plaintiff identify any unknown, anonymous, or pseudonymous authors who post allegedly defamatory material online. The bill specifies that the plaintiff pays for the retrieval of the information, and that the content provider is dropped from the suit upon complying with the order to turn over information within 30 days.
This bill smells like the fallback position: maybe the legislators dump HB 1278, then pass HB 1277, saying, "See? We listened. We passed a more reasonable bill. Consider yourselves lucky, Internet punks."
Bull. HB 1277 is a Charlie-Fox of a bill on many counts:
- "Online Content Providers." Some jerk posts a nasty comment about you here on the Madville Times. Whom does HB 1277 authorize you to sue? Me? I'm the content author. Google provides the content via its software and magic servers in undisclosed locations. Midco or Sioux Valley Wireless or whomever you buy Internet from provides the content to your computer. Who's the responsible "provider"? Or do you just get to sue everyone? HB 1277 doesn't say.
- "Reasonably Available" ...for whom? A professional webmaster with a degree in computer science? A person who takes the time to purchase a unique domain and web hosting package? A person who chooses to use Wordpress, which includes IP identification? A person who chooses to use Blogger, which does not include IP identification? Define this new legal standard for tech savvy to me. This bill sure doesn't.
- "Kept in the Normal Course...." I don't normally keep any IP information. My stat counters automatically dump old entries. Someone insults you here on February 5, you lawyer up and drag me to court on March 5 (don't—I'll be judging State Debate), and I'll shrug and say, "Sorry! I don't have a clue who was on my blog four weeks ago."
- "...of Business." Business? My business consists of occasionally selling ads. Sometimes people leave me tips (and thank you, dear readers for hitting that tip jar!). Writing these posts and engaging in discourse with commenters isn't business; it's a hobby. It's a civic duty. It's great fun.
But not to worry. The courts have already ruled that the First Amendment protects anonymity. The courts would throw out HB 1277 in a flash (and I would be happy to provide the test case that would do it).
Actually, I'm thinking this legislative assault on bloggers is just a trick. They're trying to distract us bloggers from the other bills they're working on. Bills like the dram shop law, HB 1004, which would declare that a bar or liquor store owner isn't responsible for harm done by a negligently supervised drunk employee. Senator Russell Olson thinks that's a great idea. So does the House Commerce Committee, which passed it yesterday 7–6.
To review: some legislators, like Reps. Greenfield and Krebs, think I should be taken to court if some nameless meathead insults them on my blog. But they don't think the courts should touch a liquor vendor whose employees get schnockered at work and start whacking customers.
Someone must be pulling my leg. Good luck pulling my IP list.