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Why online anonymity is an illusion

JY Lee (via SMH) | Nov. 25, 2011
Being anonymous online is a powerful tool.

Then defamation - to be defamatory, an untruthful statement communicated to anyone who is not the subject must expose the subject to ridicule, lower their reputation in the eyes of members of the community, cause people to shun or avoid them or injure their professional reputation. Again, it would only take a few seconds to find these types of comments online.

The Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 could also apply where users are being intimidated or harassed in their personal capacity. In the legislation, the definition of intimidation includes conduct amounting to harassment of the person, or “an approach made to the person by any means (including by telephone, telephone text messaging, emailing and other technologically assisted means) that causes the person to fear for his or her safety”. This is quite a broad definition which could cover a range of comments that people make on blogs and even news sites.

For a number of years, users have accepted that their public post on a news site or blog might result in hateful, abusive or disgusting responses from anonymous users. But lately, as more popular websites provide for public comments, the sheer amount of negative content means that users are starting to push back. This change in attitude is likely to lead to a more pro-active stance on uncovering the authors of such communications, particularly where the communications have breached the law.

In these circumstances, a user could seek to identify the author of a defamatory or racially discriminative post through the author's internet service provider (ISP) - and it is possible that a court would order the author's ISP to hand over their details.

Even if the comments were posted from an overseas location - if it was published on an Australian site with Australian viewers, there could be enough of a link for a court to say that they would hear a case against the author of the statement in Australia.

These days, it might be safer to take a breath and think about what you're posting on public properties as what was posted anonymously might not remain anonymous.

JY Lee is an Associate in the technology, communications, commercial, media and IP group of the law firm Baker & McKenzie. JY is on Twitter @jy-lee.


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