Should a newspaper, or any web site for that matter, be required to reveal the names of people posting comments to website articles? A court fight in Nevada may determine the answer to that question and just exactly how the First Amendment applies in the case of anonymous postings on the internet.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is fighting a Nevada U.S. Attorney who is seeking the names and personal information of anonymous posters responding to a Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper story.
The story about a federal case against Nevada businessman Robert Kahre, drew some caustic—some have said possibly threatening—comments about U.S. Assistant District Attorney J. Gregory Damm and the jury hearing the case.
Kahre, a construction company executive, was charged with income tax evasion, fraud and criminal conspiracy for paying contractors with gold and silver U.S. coins based on their precious metal value but using the much lower face values on the coins for tax purposes.
Ironically, those coins are considered legal tender by the big government boys and girls, but they don’t like the coins being used that way. But that’s an article for another day.
The story ran May 26, 2009, and within days had more than 200 comments posted on the story. By June 2 the paper had the subpoena in hand requesting the information, according to press reports.
The U.S. Attorney initially sought the names of all who posted remarks about the article. But the paper resisted and the government backed down and singled out two it didn’t like. The newspaper was willing to relent on those two, but the ACLU filed court documents to stop it.
In the comments, one of the posters called the jury members “dummies” and said they should be “hung” if they convicted Kayre. The other wanted to bet the U.S. Attorney wouldn’t celebrate his next birthday.
There were others, too. In them Damm was called a fascist and other names. In response, Damm did what any self-respecting fascist would. He sought to intimidate, if not arrest, those who so labeled him.
Freedom of speech in America is supposed to mean people are free to express themselves regardless of who gets their feelings hurt. But of late the government boys and girls don’t seem to like that idea. Hence we get terms like hate speech and terrorism and threats lumped into one big category that makes one person’s speech unacceptable—meaning no longer free.
I wonder what the British government thought about Thomas Paine? Probably thought his Common Sense was hate speech. He wrote it anonymously and it helped to foment the ideas that led to a revolution. That should be a particularly poignant thought coming off the 233rd birthday of our Republic.
And I’m sure that if someone wanted to be offended some of the comments posted on Personal Liberty Digest could be considered offensive, what with names like right wing nut job and commie pinko—and some worse—being slung around willy-nilly.
But America is not Iran. Americans can still—today at least—lean on the First Amendment when they want to express themselves.
They can even hold Tea Party protests—although Tea Parties upset liberals and government boys and girls who like to use free speech to call the Tea Party participants ugly names and then turn around and claim hate speech when the names are turned back on them.