November 02, 2016

Anonymous Speech IS Free Speech

The ability to speak anonymously or use a pen name is a pillar of free speech.

The decision to publish anonymously was important for two reasons: It let the authors speak with a single voice and, as Madison was already an important voice in shaping the Constitution, allowed the arguments to stand on their own merits. As Federalist “No. 1” explains, “My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all.”

But despite its clear importance to America’s founding and its enshrinement in the First Amendment, the ability of Americans to anonymously advocate ideas they care about is under attack at the state and federal level.

Non-profit organizations such as the NAACP or the National Rifle Association have for decades vigorously partaken in the public policy debate. To keep their doors open, non-profits have generally relied on the support of thousands of members who believe in the organization’s mission. But politicians and bureaucrats in states such Missouri, South Dakota, Washington, and Oregon are risking diminishing that support considerably. Voters in South Dakota and Washington will be asked next week to vote on ballot initiatives requiring supporters’ personal information be reported to the government. Public officials in Missouri and Oregon, meanwhile, are backing legislative measures implementing this free speech-chilling policy. Similar efforts are underway, or will be soon, in other states.

The sad fact is that forced disclosure would open people up to harassment and violent attack. If these laws pass, individuals’ names, home address, contributions, and more will end up in a searchable government website, where anyone could use the information to target their opponents. Ultimately, this could stifle people’s willingness to speak out and support causes they believe in—exactly what TED’s Chris Anderson warned.

By Howie at 02:24 PM | Comments |