November 13, 2011

Letter to the Editor: The benefits of anonymous speech

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To the Editor:Re: “Why Madison Is Rolling Over in His Grave,” Opinion, Nov. 10Thursday’s column, “Why Madison is Rolling Over in His Grave,” argues that the first amendment should be limited, because people aren’t always nice to one another anonymously. By doing so, it entirely ignores the benefits of anonymous speech, and suggests neutering our freedoms in the pursuit of a ‘kinder’ world.Let’s start by clarifying what the first amendment actually says. It states: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It doesn’t mean nobody can set limits on speech. It means the government can’t. Website administrators, building owners and even newspapers are free to set limits as to what can and can’t be expressed on their property and in their publications. So the author’s blackboard problem? Poor website design, not a free speech issue. (As a side note, she should feel comforted to learn that administrators of the discussion board, like the professor, can see who made anonymous postings. “Anonymous” doesn’t always mean anonymous.)What is a free speech issue is that people, including public radio hosts, have been fired when pictures of them at Occupy* protests on their time off have been published. Denying anonymous speech would deny these people the option to protest without retribution from their jobs. It would also deny LGBT and other vulnerable youth the ability to seek information online without revealing their names. It would deny whistleblowers the chance to turn in their companies without retribution. It would even put to a halt art projects like PostSecret, and the sex columns in this very paper in the name of a “kinder” world.To pretend that we can express protected speech without retribution is laughable. At this very moment, Bradley Manning rots in jail for blowing the whistle, with treason charges hanging over his head. Herman Cain has launched an extensive smear campaign against the women who have mentioned that he sexually harassed them. Jacob Applebaum, a U.S. citizen and computer security researcher who represented Wikileaks at the 2010 HOPE conference, has been repeatedly targeted by law enforcement, was detained at the U.S. border 12 times and had his laptop and cell phone seized. There is no question in my mind that we need anonymous speech to protect us from our government when we do speak out.Furthermore, I think James Madison would agree with me. In 1964, computer analysis proved that he, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, wrote the Federalist Papers, which were published in 1787 and 1788 under the pseudonym “Publius.”Sarah Longchamp ’14