“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.”
Pretty harsh, huh? What kind of wacky country would you have to live in where somebody could go to the federal pokey for two years, just because they annoyed somebody else with an online posting?
Well, believe it or not, that’s now federal law.
Not in China, not in Iran, not in Cuba. Well, yes, some variation of those words probably is the law in all of those places–but those exact words really are the law in the United States of America. Here’s a Declan McCullagh column with the sordid details; according to McCullagh, the “annoyance” language was slipped into the “Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act” at the behest of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.
Let’s parse no phrases and mince no words here: this law is an outrage. It is an offense against the First Ammendment, and everyone responsible for its vile passage ought to be ashamed of themselves. It is a blatantly unconstitutional attempt to silence the Internet and to bully down anonymous voices. While I myself have no use for anonymity (I’ve used my own name online since getting my first AOL account over a decade ago), I’m not about to countenance any attempt to prosecute people just for posting something that might “annoy” somebody else. Like, say, a United States Senator.
If I were the type of guy who drummed up blogosphere campaigns, I’d suggest that everybody with a blog adopt a fake name, and start posting stuff guranteed to annoy the authors of this obnoxious law.
Just a thought.
NOTE: The actual legalese used to get this abomination into law is not as cut-and-dried as McCullagh’s article (or my post) suggests. The Senate weasels used a pretty convoluted method to get the “annoy” reference into the law. Here’s a link explaining what happened in the legislation in greater detail.
Law-talkin’ guys, feel free to chime in here.