NY Lawmakers Push a Bill to Punish Unapproved Speech

P. Gardner Goldsmith | March 20, 2017
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Many Americans read George Orwell’s dystopian political novel “1984” with horror. Shocked by portrayals of collectivism stripped bare of its fictitious garlands, they realized that individual choice was smothered by Big Brother; privacy was gone, history was manipulated and turned into a tapestry of lies controlled by functionaries at the “Ministry of Truth”, and even free speech and the meaning of words were subject to government control. At the same time, U.S. citizens often luxuriated in a sense that this was a depiction of another nation, of a place, society, and political system quite different from America. It couldn’t possibly happen here.

New York State Assemblyman David Weprin and State Senator Tony Avella are working to disprove that by introducing glorious bills in the New York legislature that would punish writers, bloggers, websites, and web hosts for not sending speech down Orwell’s “memory hole."

Titled "A05323" in the Assembly and "S04561" in the State Senate, but better known as the “Right to be Forgotten” bills, the proposed legislation would fine search engines, bloggers, websites, web hosts (including ISPs, or "Internet Service Providers") and “any other persons or entities which make available, on or through the internet or other widely used computer-based network, program or service, information about an individual” if they do not remove information about an individual within 30 days of that person’s request to do so.

That’s right. This is not about libel or slander, for which there are already avenues of legal redress should someone falsely malign another. This is about a much, much broader subject: the ability to speak freely, all the way from news reports to reviews and non-fiction essays. And, not surprisingly, it is a particularly powerful weapon for the politicians and the bureaucrats they appoint.

Weprin’s bill says, in part:

1. Upon the request from an individual, all search engines, indexers, publishers and any other person or entities that make available, on or through the internet or other widely used computer-based network, program or service, information about the requester, shall remove information, articles, identifying information and other content about such individual, and links or indexes to any of the same, that is "inaccurate," "irrelevant," "inadequate" or "excessive" within thirty days of such request…

Not only would the “guilty” parties be subject to $250 fines for each day of non-compliance, and to attorney’s fees should the person wanting his or her name removed from a site hire a lawyer, the “offender” -- get this -- is forbidden from issuing any takedown notice, disclaimer, “hyperlink or other replacement notice” when the article is wiped or the name removed to leave a blank space or stylish “redaction-esque” black-bar.

The offender is not mandated to remove the content until the government makes this determination, based on very well defined parameters in the bill. The content must be removed within 30 days if the great masters in the Ministry of Truth determine that it is “inaccurate,” “irrelevant,” “no longer material to the public debate” or “excessive."

Is this kind of Orwellian government power really what people in New York, and possibly America, want to institute?

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