New law will make anonymous internet comments impossible

Ministerial Legislative Committee approves proposal to obligate Internet service providers to reveal PC addresses of people who post talkbacks • If Knesset approves, law will enable people, organizations to sue talkback authors.

By Edna Adato



In a controversial move that may limit the way people in Israel access online information, the Knesset Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a proposal on Sunday that may force Internet service providers to disclose computer identities of people who write talkback messages on Web pages.

ISPs may soon be forced to reveal the identities of people who participate in talkbacks on Israeli Web pages. | Photo credit: AP

ISPs may soon be forced to reveal the identities of people who participate in talkbacks on Israeli Web pages. - Photo: AP

The proposal, which was initiated by the Justice Ministry, would enable courts to order ISPs to reveal who is behind a particular talkback response so they can be sued for damages, slander, violation of intellectual property rights and other infractions.

The “talkback law” was formulated in light of a Supreme Court ruling last year stating that a court could not force an ISP to disclose the identity of an Internet user for legal purposes even if the claimant asserts that the person in question harmed him with his words. The court said the concept had not yet been anchored in legislation and was therefore untenable.

According to the proposal approved by the committee, people who believe content posted in an electronic media outlet has harmed them, will be able to ask for a pre-trial session in which they can ask an ISP to request permission from the defendant to reveal their identity. If the defendant refuses to reveal his or her identity the claimant can ask the court to force the ISP to reveal the defendant’s identity, even without the defendant’s permission.

The court will be charged with maintaining a balance of rights between the claimant and the defendant to minimize the possibility of false or spiteful claims.

An attempt to reign in nasty posters on Israeli websites was already made in Nov. 2011 when amid growing consternation over slanderous comments on Israeli news pages, the Knesset approved a bill that would have made it easier for perceived victims of defamation to sue. The bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev (New National Religious Party) passed a first reading in the Knesset plenum and needed to pass through two more readings to become law.

Comments on large news sites, among the most popular websites in Israel, have been the subject of widespread controversy. Many readers post anonymously and use aliases, giving rise to a “talkback” culture that can often be rude and slanderous in tone.

Several district and magistrate court judges have ruled that Web users’ identities can be revealed without infringing on freedom of the press. Judges have even ordered a number of Internet carriers to temporarily suspend their privacy policies, revealing the Internet protocol address of particular subscribers so that injured parties can sue for damages.

But in 2010, the Supreme Court overturned a decision by a lower court that forced an ISP to disclose who was behind a certain comment, on the grounds that the current libel laws do not apply to user-generated online content. This prompted lawmakers to introduce legislation that would allow legal redress for those harmed by online libel, usually in the form of false allegations by online readers reacting to a news story involving the injured party. At present, potential injured parties are denied such legal recourse, with ISPs using the High Court’s precedent as a way to protect clients’ personal information.

The bill in question is unrelated to a separate piece of pending legislation seeking to amend the libel law. The libel amendment, likely to be diluted before its final passage, imposes much higher penalties on media outlets that commit libel even without causing harm to the injured party. It would raise the amount awarded from 50,000 shekels ($13,000) to 300,000 shekels ($79,000) even if the plaintiff fails to prove he or she has been harmed. The penalty could rise to 1.5 million shekels ($397,000) if the media outlet refuses to publish an unedited response from the injured party.

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