Annoying someone via Internet now a federal crime

This is a discussion on Annoying someone via Internet now a federal crime within the Off Topic & Humor Discussion forums, part of the The Back Porch category; Create an e-annoyance, go to jail By Declan McCullagh Story last modified Mon Jan 09 04:00:00 PST 2006 News.com http://news.com.com/Create+an+e-anno...3-6022491.html It's illegal to annoy A ...

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Thread: Annoying someone via Internet now a federal crime

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    Member Array St Michael's Avatar
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    Annoying someone via Internet now a federal crime

    Create an e-annoyance, go to jail

    By Declan McCullagh

    Story last modified Mon Jan 09 04:00:00 PST 2006
    News.com

    http://news.com.com/Create+an+e-anno...3-6022491.html

    It's illegal to annoy

    A new federal law states that when you annoy someone on the Internet, you must disclose your identity. Here's the relevant language.

    "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."
    Buried deep in the new law is Sec. 113, an innocuously titled bit called "Preventing Cyberstalking." It rewrites existing telephone harassment law to prohibit anyone from using the Internet "without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy."
    Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime.

    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."

    To grease the rails for this idea, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, and the section's other sponsors slipped it into an unrelated, must-pass bill to fund the Department of Justice. The plan: to make it politically infeasible for politicians to oppose the measure.

    The tactic worked. The bill cleared the House of Representatives by voice vote, and the Senate unanimously approved it Dec. 16.

    There's an interesting side note. An earlier version that the House approved in September had radically different wording. It was reasonable by comparison, and criminalized only using an "interactive computer service" to cause someone "substantial emotional harm."

    That kind of prohibition might make sense. But why should merely annoying someone be illegal?

    There are perfectly legitimate reasons to set up a Web site or write something incendiary without telling everyone exactly who you are.

    Think about it: A woman fired by a manager who demanded sexual favors wants to blog about it without divulging her full name. An aspiring pundit hopes to set up the next Suck.com. A frustrated citizen wants to send e-mail describing corruption in local government without worrying about reprisals.

    In each of those three cases, someone's probably going to be annoyed. That's enough to make the action a crime. (The Justice Department won't file charges in every case, of course, but trusting prosecutorial discretion is hardly reassuring.)

    Clinton Fein, a San Francisco resident who runs the Annoy.com site, says a feature permitting visitors to send obnoxious and profane postcards through e-mail could be imperiled.

    "Who decides what's annoying? That's the ultimate question," Fein said. He added: "If you send an annoying message via the United States Post Office, do you have to reveal your identity?"

    Fein once sued to overturn part of the Communications Decency Act that outlawed transmitting indecent material "with intent to annoy." But the courts ruled the law applied only to obscene material, so Annoy.com didn't have to worry.

    "I'm certainly not going to close the site down," Fein said on Friday. "I would fight it on First Amendment grounds."

    He's right. Our esteemed politicians can't seem to grasp this simple point, but the First Amendment protects our right to write something that annoys someone else.

    It even shields our right to do it anonymously. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas defended this principle magnificently in a 1995 case involving an Ohio woman who was punished for distributing anonymous political pamphlets.

    If President Bush truly believed in the principle of limited government (it is in his official bio), he'd realize that the law he signed cannot be squared with the Constitution he swore to uphold.

    And then he'd repeat what President Clinton did a decade ago when he felt compelled to sign a massive telecommunications law. Clinton realized that the section of the law punishing abortion-related material on the Internet was unconstitutional, and he directed the Justice Department not to enforce it.

    Bush has the chance to show his respect for what he calls Americans' personal freedoms. Now we'll see if the president rises to the occasion.

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    VIP Member Array Bud White's Avatar
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    I dont Really see how they could enforce it i read about this earlyer and was getting ready to post it ...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bud White
    I dont Really see how they could enforce it i read about this earlyer and was getting ready to post it ...
    Agreed, which is why I posted it under "Humor." It's ridiculous, laughably so.

    But imagine the chilling effect this could have on legitimate criticism of politicians online, if certain politicians decided to selectively enforce it.

    A friend who is a federal judge just sent me this comment:

    Shouldn't it be a violation of the Fifth Amendment to punish someone for not giving their name, that is, incriminating themselves, when they want to harass someone? Seems to me that if this is constitutional, every flame war on Free Republic could fill a federal prison. It reminds me of the urban legend about legislation proposed some decades ago by some senator upset with the liberal rulings of the Warren Court. The proposed law was to end run all the defenses based on the Bill of Rights by making it a federal crime not to disclose your intent to commit a crime 24 hours ahead of time. Unfortunately, this one sounds like it really became law.

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    VIP Member Array Bud White's Avatar
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    Also wouldnt it Violate the 1st Admenment Freedom of Speech?

    i think if they try to enforce its really gona open a can of worms..

    When do the Tv's that watch me begin to show up Ala 1984

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    Yes - laughable, even in its potential seriousness.

    This seems like a ''Screw the 1st - we are going to protect whimps from now on!!"
    Chris - P95
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    Quote Originally Posted by P95Carry
    Yes - laughable, even in its potential seriousness.

    This seems like a ''Screw the 1st - we are going to protect whimps from now on!!"
    Of course, the 2nd is the only assurance we have that "they" won't say, ''Screw the 1st."

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    VIP Member Array Sheldon J's Avatar
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    Well darn I guess the criminals will have to obey this law just like they obey the gun laws.
    "The sword dose not cause the murder, and the maker of the sword dose not bear sin" Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac 11th century

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    The way I read it, 2 conditions have to be met.

    1) You have to conceal or refuse to reveal your identity.

    2) and have the intent to annoy someone.

    So it seems to me that you can be as annoying as you like, as long as you're open about it.

    I wonder what problem this is trying to address. Or what situation instigated the law being written.
    Pax
    Tulsa, OK

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    It would seem to violate the 1st (our right to offend others), 4th (maybe) and 5th (self incrimination) amendments. But then again, the pre-Roberts Supreme Court has approved laws that blatantly violate the 1st (campaign finance) and whatever section of the Constitution that defines emminent domain (shamefully, I can't remember).

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