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Eye On Boise

House panel rejects bill to make courts out anonymous commenters

The House State Affairs Committee this morning rejected a proposal from Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, to create a “rebuttable presumption” that the identity of an online commenter must be disclosed when there’s a defamation or slander suit. Just two committee members, Reps. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, and Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, opposed the motion to reject the bill and not introduce it.

“Anonymity in the Internet age gives a great deal of privacy to the blogger,” Hartgen told the committee. “It expands the concept of privacy in a way that had never really been used in anonymous comments before. But it leaves the object of the comment, the person that is being blogged about, with almost no recourse except to wince and snarl. … What was said about them lies out there in the blogosphere more or less forever.”

But committee members, including three lawyers on the committee, raised concerns about Hartgen’s bill, which he said was in response to a case in which a judge ordered The Spokesman-Review to reveal identifying information about an anonymous commenter, whose quickly-deleted comment suggested a local GOP official had acted improperly. “The judge in this case has made a decision rightly within the correct parameters – why are we trying to codify this?” asked Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, asked, “It seems to me that if the process worked appropriately, why do we need a bill that gets into the rules within the judicial system?” Hartgen responded, “This ruling only applies in the 1stJudicial District. … It is simply a narrow ruling. … This is an area of the law which has evolved to the point where anonymous blog comments are part of our daily life.”

His bill required disclosure except in cases where a judge rules that disclosure wouldn’t be in the public interest; committee members questioned that wording as well, saying judges already weigh that. Hartgen said, “This would not allow a fishing expedition for somebody who said, ‘Well, they said something mean about me on KTVB’s blog,’ or whatever.” But Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said, “I don’t think this soup is ready yet.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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