The Internet's Anonymity Problem

The walls of the Law School's bathroom stalls used to display the student body's complaints about professors and fellow students, but the internet made those walls obsolete. Is the internet different from the bathroom stalls in some fundamenta...

Summary

The walls of the Law School's bathroom stalls used to display the student body's complaints about professors and fellow students, but the internet made those walls obsolete. Is the internet different from the bathroom stalls in some fundamental way? Does the internet mark a break from the paradigm of previous media? Dean Levmore does not think so. On Tuesday, November 11, Dean Saul Levmore gave a talk on "The Internet's Anonymity Problem" as part of the Chicago's Best Ideas lecture series. His main contention is that the internet is not different from other media and should be subject to the same legal regime. Currently, it is not; ยง 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides that internet service providers (ISPs) are not publishers with regard to user-generated content, so they are for the most part not responsible for online torts committed by their users. (One questioner pointed to Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v Roommates.com (9th Cir 2008) (en banc), where Judge Kozinski wrote an opinion holding a website liable under the Fair Housing Act for discrimination committed by its users, but Levmore remarked that the case is an outlier because, after all, it was written by Judge Kozinski.) If a newspaper, on the other hand, publishes a defamatory letter to the editor, the newspaper may be sued. The most commonly cited reason for the nonpublisher rule in the legislative history of the Act is that the internet is a new medium, so it should be allowed to develop and flourish. But the Act was passed twelve years ago, and the internet has matured since then, so it is time to take stock.

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Published: November 11, 2008

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