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January 09, 2006

Law Criminalizes Trolling On The Interent

So, so stupid:

It's no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.

In other words, it's OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.

This ridiculous prohibition, which would likely imperil much of Usenet, is buried in the so-called Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.

"The use of the word 'annoy' is particularly problematic," says Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "What's annoying to one person may not be annoying to someone else."

[...]

[The language of the law:]

"Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

The article notes that a previous House draft of the bill made it illegal to intentionally inflict serious emotional harm anonymously. Which makes sense-- that would seem to criminalize death threats and true cyberstalking.

But two years in jail for annoying someone anonymously?

I guess that, as Thomas Jefferson said, "Free speech is quite overrated."

This was a little-noticed provision to a much larger bill. I hope that Bush and Congress come to their senses and strike this ludicrous free-speech chilling provision. I hope they didn't even notice it, and now that it's brought to their attention, they will repeal it double-plus-quick.

Yes, make death threats and the intent to frighten someone anonymously illegal, as it is already illegal to do by phone. But please -- let Jersey, Geno, Proud Liberal Vet, Jason, and Tubino continue to annoy without fear of federal penal retribution. Quite frankly, I need the hits.

Thanks to JackStraw. And also, the A-Man.

Have We Been Had?: That's what one poster suggests. This is not dispositive, but this version of the s. 113 of the bill does extend the normal federal rules regarding phone calls to the Internet.

This... is the Act (meaning it was passed) as reported by the Senate, and it indicates it extends the normal laws against "annoying" communications to the Internet (again, see s. 113).


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posted by Ace at 01:49 PM

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