opening of knesset winter session - Emil Salman -  October 31, 2011
Lawmakers attending the opening of the Knesset winter session, October 31, 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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Hagai Frid
Shelly Yachimovich Photo by Hagai Frid

The "talkback law," allowing an Internet user who posts a readers' comment that is libelous or that harms another person's intellectual property to be sued, passed its first reading in the Knesset on Tuesday.

Under the bill, Internet service providers could be forced to reveal the identity of the author of the offending content.

Only 10 MKs voted on the proposal. Nine of them supported it while one, Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ), voted against. As opposed to the libel law, which recently caused heated confrontations surrounding the question of freedom of expression, the talkback bill is being promoted quietly and enjoys more support.

Under the proposal, proposed by Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ), an individual hurt by a talkback could ask the courts to instruct the relevant Internet service provider to reveal information about the user who posted the comment. The service provider would be obliged to inform the user within three days, and the user, in turn, would have 20 days to state whether or not he agreed to his identity being revealed.

Following this procedure, the court would be asked to decide whether there was a factual basis proving the complainant's claim that his reputation was harmed or his intellectual property breached, and if so, the user's identity would be revealed.

Orlev insisted that the court would reveal the user's identity only after it was persuaded that "it wasn't a spiteful request, score settling or the case of an employer wanting to settle scores with a worker." He expressed his confidence that the law would not curb freedom of expression and would not deter Internet users from expressing their opinions anonymously.

Before the second and third readings, the proposal is expected to undergo more changes, after MKs were made aware that revealing a user's IP address, could reveal his identity before the court decided to do so. The MKs intend to change the bill so that Internet service providers would be instructed to supply a different source of information, thus enabling the user to remain anonymous until the court decides otherwise.

Dan Hay, from the Public Council for the Protection of Privacy at the Justice Ministry supports the law. He claimed that "the current legislation is slower than the technology, and doesn't answer all the needs. The law should be far more extreme than it is, and anyone harming another person's reputation or privacy shouldn't enjoy such protection."