The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Jeff Kosseff Guest-Blogging About "The United States of Anonymous"


I'm delighted to report that Prof. Jeff Kosseff (U.S. Naval Academy) will be guest-blogging this week about his new book, The United States of Anonymous: How the First Amendment Shaped Online Speech. From the publisher's summary and jacket blurbs:

In The United States of Anonymous, Jeff Kosseff explores how the right to anonymity has shaped American values, politics, business, security, and discourse, particularly as technology has enabled people to separate their identities from their communications.

Legal and political debates surrounding online privacy often focus on the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, overlooking the history and future of an equally powerful privacy right: the First Amendment's protection of anonymity. The United States of Anonymous features extensive and engaging interviews with people involved in the highest profile anonymity cases, as well as with those who have benefited from, and been harmed by, anonymous communications. Through these interviews, Kosseff explores how courts have protected anonymity for decades and, likewise, how law and technology have allowed individuals to control how much, if any, identifying information is associated with their communications. From blocking laws that prevent Ku Klux Klan members from wearing masks to restraining Alabama officials from forcing the NAACP to disclose its membership lists, and to refusing companies' requests to unmask online critics, courts have recognized that anonymity is a vital part of our free speech protections.

The United States of Anonymous weighs the tradeoffs between the right to hide identity and the harms of anonymity, concluding that we must maintain a strong, if not absolute, right to anonymous speech.

"From the world's leading expert on Section 230, a new book with a balanced and insightful look at online anonymity—the good and the bad—that is required reading for anyone who wants to substantively engage in this debate."
— Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia

"An indispensable, in-depth look at both the history and present of anonymity protections in American life, media, and online culture. The United States of Anonymous will have resounding implications for the future of democracy."
— Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist

"Providing both a great story and keen legal analysis, Jeff Kosseff examines what fuels our commitment to protecting anonymous speech in the United States—and the new and sometimes high costs of that unwavering allegiance."
— Victoria Smith Ekstrand, author of Hot News in the Age of Big Data

"Jeff Kosseff weaves together history, legal issues, and public affairs in this vital, timely, and highly readable book. The United States of Anonymous should be required reading for all engaged in the debate over anonymity, identity, and privacy in the online age."
— Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?

"Jeff Kosseff has, once again, spotted the next looming topic in technology law, anonymous communication, illuminating its contours with his trademark skill. The United States of Anonymous is a foundational dive into one of the toughest areas of speech, privacy, and identity today."
— Kate Klonick, St. John's University School of Law

"A superb book, accessibly written, that canvasses the history of anonymous speech and its interaction with the law. Jeff Kosseff has created a major framework for any future discussions of anonymity."
— Anupam Chander, author of The Electronic Silk Road

I much look forward to Prof. Kosseff's posts.