Free speech concerns have been a major legal bone-of-contention ever since the introduction of the First Amendment, which guards freedom of speech. The Internet has been fertile ground for the ongoing battles that are fought over what, exactly, defines freedom of speech, and how far that freedom reaches. There are a number of current issues traversing court systems throughout the country, and here are some of the matters that are spawning many of those legal concerns.
- Illegal Downloads – The Napster and Limewire experiences seem to have pointed out a need to regulate which files can or cannot be shared, in order to protect artistic integrity and rights.
- False Statements – Many examples are in the courts today. A typical example is the trashing, via the Internet, of a company by disgruntled customers or even by competing companies. The limits of free speech and user anonymity are being tested time-and-again.
- Copyright Infringement – Courts have been inconsistent in this area, but a main component is the defining of what a copyright entails when applied to the Internet world.
- Hacking – Hacking, which is non-permitted access of another’s computer, for whatever reason, is an area where many courts have seen fit to require information release from an ISP.
- National Security – Matters involving national security are an area where courts, especially since the 9/11 attacks, have favored disclosure of user identities over privacy rights.
- Privacy Issues – At the heart of disputes about disclosure are privacy issues, and the courts are understandably reluctant to needlessly require that users be publicly identified. A notable exception has been in the area of national security.
- Criminal Investigations – The number of cases in appellate courts shows how cloudy the subject of disclosure remains; on one hand are the rights of the accused, while the other hand holds the rights of victims. In the American system of justice, where innocence is presumed until proof of guilt is established, victims often find themselves the losers.
- Guard against ISP Negligence – In many cases regarding libel and defamation, the ISP’s themselves can be held accountable for what they allow to show up on the Internet.
- Protection of Minors – Courts often have difficulty getting information about users who are minors because ISP’s typically do not collect the same information that they do from adult users.
- Money – Internet commerce is growing rapidly, and the reporting of business transactions for tax purposes has become an increasing concern for retailers and taxing agencies alike. Inter- and intra-state commerce is an area that sees repeated abuse.
This is an evolving legal situation, as evidenced by the great number of court decisions that are under appeal, and it will be years before clear policies are delineated.