Two bills have been proposed in the New York State Legislature that aim to de-anonymize online commenting.

The proposed Internet Protection Act — introduced in the identical bills S.6779 and A.8688 —would amend New York civil rights law to require a website administrator upon request to “remove any comments posted on his or her web site by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms that his or her IP address, legal name, and home address are accurate.”

An anonymous poster is defined as one who “posts a message on a web site . . . where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.”  As drafted, “anonymous poster” would include all commenters, regardless of whether they are logged into an account or whether they have already posted under a first and last name. 

Assemblyman Jim Conte, a sponsor of the legislation, has explained that it “seeks to combat cyber-bullying by allowing the victim of an anonymous Website posting to request that the post be removed if the anonymous source is unwilling to attach his or her name to it.”

Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor, has called the legislation “an obvious first amendment violation.”  Critics cite a 1960 Supreme Court case, Talley v. California, that struck down a Los Angeles ordinance requiring handbill distributors to print the author and distributor of a handbill on its cover.   The Talley Court observed that “there are times and circumstances when States may not compel members of groups engaged in the dissemination of ideas to be publicly identified,” explaining that “identification and fear of reprisal might deter perfectly peaceful discussions of public matters of importance.”

Senator Thomas O’Mara, sponsor of the Senate version, has responded to criticisms of the legislation’s constitutionality.  “I certainly didn’t introduce the legislation with the thought that it was violative of the First Amendment.  We’re certainly looking forward to any and all input.”