The "talkback bill," which aims to see internet users held accountable for slanderous remarks, passed its first Knesset reading on Monday. The vote was carried nine to one.
The bill proposes subjecting all content uploaded by users to criminal and civil liability by enabling the courts to order internet service providers to divulge subscriber information in case of user-abuse. The bill was prompted largely due to talkback discussions on news websites.
The legislation aims to encompass all online activity, but as suggested by its nickname, it is directed mostly at comments posted on online forums, blogs etc., should they be deemed slanderous or constitute a breach of intellectual property.
Anonymity guaranteed? (Illustration: Shuttersrock)
According to the bill, an individual who feels an online comment made about him is slanderous, or that his proprietary rights have been violated, will be able to file a motion to make the internet service provider divulge the talkbacker's real details, so that he may pursue legal action.
Should the court feel an individual has been wronged by an online comment, it will be able to order the internet service provider to reveal the details behind the IP address, including the subscriber's full name, ID and home address.
Such a ruling is, however, subjected to the court's ability to isolate one talkbacker – especially in cases involving wireless internet connections or shared networks.
Israel is home to a robust online-comments scene, as local talkbackers are considered extremely prolific compared to their counterparts worldwide.
The bill aims to tackle the unfortunate lack of online decorum prevalent among Israeli talkbackers, who are somewhat infamous for their verbal violence.
"The internet cannot be perceived as a safe haven where those violating others' rights can simply do wrong and get away with it," MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) wrote in the bill's brief.
Still, the current draft does not address several crucial operational issues, such as the fact that the structure of TCP/IP, the Internet Protocol, makes it notoriously easy to mask IP addresses, and also assigns the same single IP address to many computers using one connection, like in an internet café, for example.
The real problem though, lies in the fact that an IP address can be easily disguised, most commonly by using a proxy server – anonymity is one of cyberspace's fortes.
The bill thus proves that it suffers from a lack of sophistication and worse – it attributes a similar lack of sophistication to Israeli internet users, rendering it toothless to begin with.
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