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Austria is determined to not let people use the internet anonymously

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Online anonymity may soon be dead in Austria – at least when it comes to anyone seeking to express their opinion in the comments section.

The executioner of this form of free speech in the EU member-state is its government, that has drafted a law – “Diligence and Responsibility on the Web.”

Der Standard newspaper explains on its website that if it comes into effect by 2020, the legislation would require commenters to reveal their full name and address to platforms they are posting on. And while the comments can still appear under a pseudonym – the identity would be known to the publisher, available to government agencies, and to individuals who complain of “insult or defamation.”

The publishers will have to figure out how to confirm the commenters’ identity – but the law suggests dual-factor authentication via mobile phones. And in Austria, all SIM cards must be registered with photo ID.

The draft aims to affect online platforms with the biggest reach in Austria: with either 100,000 registered users, over half a million euros in annual revenues, or accepting government press subsidies over 50,000 euros.

Conveniently, left under this threshold is a website linked with the ruling FPO party, that the report said is often criticized for letting “hate speech” through.

The law envisages fines starting at half a million euros for first-time offenders, or millions for those found to be committing repeated violations.

The proposal has met with criticism from activists and experts. Der Standard quotes digital rights group Epicenter Works as calling it a “compulsory digital ID” and “massive overreach on data protection,” warning against allowing the process of curbing hate speech to undermine fundamental rights.

“Such an ‘ID requirement’ on the internet has nothing to do with conditions in the real world, as the law’s proponents claim,” said the Internet Service Providers Austria Association, adding that they were worried about repercussions on data protection and freedom of expression.

IT lawyer Markus Dorfler told the newspaper that the law may be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and freedom of expression protections contained in it.

Tech law expert Nikolaus Forgo argued that it was not clear if the legislation would be aligned with the 2016 ruling by the European Court of Justice on data retention.

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