The Right to Anonymous Association in Cyberspace: US Legal Protection for Anonymity in Name, in Face, and in Action

20 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2010 Last revised: 4 Mar 2014

Minjeong Kim

Colorado State University - Department of Journalism and Technical Communication

Abstract

The Internet has become a communication medium of intense group interaction, and individuals with marginalised identities have used anonymity as a tool with which to participate in online interaction. In order to capture the full spectrum of the role that anonymity plays in cyberspace, I explore in this article the US constitutional right to anonymous association. I draw on the concepts of anonymity defined in the social science literature - identity protection, visual anonymity, and action anonymity - and analyse US case law regarding the right to anonymous association in both offline and online worlds. The examination suggests that (1) the right to anonymous association has been especially meaningful for those who are marginalised in society; (2) future courts - in light of established legal rules governing the right to anonymous association - must give careful consideration to the question as to who is seeking anonymity; (3) different concepts of anonymity have greater independence in cyberspace and, therefore, need to be distinguished by scholars and courts. Overall, the right to anonymous association in cyberspace can be understood as the positive right of individuals to control information about themselves in order to find and associate with others. The examined case law shows that strong support for such a right is embedded in the US legal tradition.

Keywords: anonymity, anonymous association, cyberspace, identity, visual anonymity, action anonymity, law

Suggested Citation

Kim, Minjeong, The Right to Anonymous Association in Cyberspace: US Legal Protection for Anonymity in Name, in Face, and in Action. SCRIPT-ed, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1590459

Minjeong Kim (Contact Author)

Colorado State University - Department of Journalism and Technical Communication ( email )

Fort Collins, CO
United States

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