Freedom of speech is a more comprehensive legal right than is typically recognized. It involves more than just being allowed to say what one wants in a book or article. Now that technology has made cyberspace a widely used communication medium, free speech has become an issue online as well. Internet users who think that they are anonymous when communicating online and giving free expression to their opinions can be tracked down by law enforcement officials or other interested parties and identified. This is a violation of free speech.
Sobel (2000) points out that "anonymity...plays an important role in fostering free expression" and that the Internet offers people "unprecedented opportunities to both publish and receive information." FBI Director Louis Freeh told a Senate subcommittee in 1998 that Internet Service Providers should capture information such as Caller ID data and computer users' IP addresses to help the government find child pornographers (Sobel, 2000), and since then this type of information has been provided to government officials. In one case, America Online gave the FBI information that revealed the identity of the New Jersey computer programmer that released the Melissa e-mail virus (Sobel, 2000). In civil cases, corporations are firing employees for statements made in their personal blog sites and other online sites (Sobel, 2000).
Admittedly, there are sometimes urgent reasons that online anonymity should be compromised. This is true when cyberstalkers try to meet with young girls for sex or perpetrate violent crimes. Online freedom of speech should yield place to efforts to capture terrorists, as well. However, these are extreme cases, and most of the free speech violations related to cyberspace have been for far lesser crimes and reasons of personal interest, not public safety.
As Wallace (1999) points out, "Anonymous and pseudonymous speech played a vital role in...