Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

January 10, 2006

Annoy, Abuse, Threaten or Harass

by Chris Byrne

“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.”

My god, how will usenet or blogs function when everyone is in prison?

Yes folks, congress has tried to make being anonymously annoying on the internet illegal.

In particular, Arlen Specter (who seems to truly hate the internet and electronic world in general given other bullshit he has sponsored before) re-wrote the language and included it in the “Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005″, a must pass bill that provided funding for the justice department to continue operating.

Specter is also one of the senators (along with Fritz Hollings) who keeps trying to insert broadcast flag, and other DRM or copyright legislation into unrelated bills etc…; thus my saying he must really hate the internet.

The gist of it is simple. They took an existing anti-telephone harassment law, and re-wrote it to cover the internet directly, without changing the wording

Except there’s a problem with that, the internet and the telephone, while both networks; are entirely different in nature; and are not, and can not be subject to the same type of rules, regulations, or management paradigms.

Oh, and this is a problem in conception that business people have had for almost three decades now, so it’s only fitting that lawmakers will catch up.

The telephone is a unicast medium. It involves a point to point communication that must be acknowledged or significant damage to ones life or business will result. The internet is a broadcast medium (with regards to communication of ideas or speach anyway).

Effectively the internet AS A WHOLE is a public space (with private spaces connected to it, and a huge number of idiots who don’t seem to understand the difference); and annoying speach in public is generally allowed, so long as that speach is not disturgbing the peace.

Well, how is something disturbing the public peace if you have to open a door and walk into a room to hear it? No matter how load and annoying it is, the sound cant leave the room you have deliberately entered of your own choice.

Not only that, but ones own sites, whether they are publicly accessible or not, ARE EFFECTIVELY PRIVATE SPACES, and annoying speach is ALWAYS allowed in your private spaces; unless that annoyance becomes harrassment.

The fact is, you jsut can’t make annoying speach a crime. If I were forcing you to listen to it; yeah that’d be a crime; but just posting annoying speach, or even sending annoying emails (though that is a much grayer area, especialy as regards inboxes and other explicit infospaces, expectation of privacy, and ownership of virtual spaces, but that’s another discussion entirely) can never be a crime.

The good news is, there is no way this provision will stand. Case law is already against it, and the ACLU will do one of it’s rare good deeds and make sure this gets challenged and struck down right away.

The congresscritters just better hope they made the damn thing severable or the supremes will have to invalidate the entire bill.

Cross posted from The AnarchAngel

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  • John Newman

    On this day in history Thomas Paine published “Common Sense.” Does anyone else think it is time to throw off the shackles of the “king’s ruffians”?

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/21/who-is-eric/ Eric

    I would venture to guess that Specter and crew did this because it was an easy way to score “good deed” points with their local constituents. I’m sure that they have received letters and phone calls from their constituents saying “do something”. So, they did. Probably knowing full well it would never stand up in the long run. But, it gives them a victory to broadcast at home.

    This, to me, is more a sign of the venality of politicians than an attempt to take away freedom of speech.

  • http://anarchangel.blogspot.com Chris

    Eric,

    I agree with that entirely. This is quite simply someone “there oughta be a law” impulse gone out of control.

    It again demonstrates that our politicians truly do consider themselves our masters; not our servants.

  • http://liberalcommonsense.blogspot.com Lisa Renee

    I understand what they were trying for with this particular bill, they were trying to address the issue of voice over internet used as a communication medium since the old standard referred to the more traditional phone line communication.

    However, the end result was written badly, and as this post demonstrates, creates some very realistic concerns.

  • http://kponly.blogspot.com Ryan

    You know I could see how the senator could equate the two…. if he were on 56k modem! (hah! computer joke!).

    But anyways, I totally agree with this post. I love my ability to post whatever I damn well want to on my blog. No one is obliged to read it, I can’t believe this attrocity, it has to be stopped.

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  • http://robertopia.blogspot.com Robert

    This is no doubt a cheap point-scoring measure; but the impetus behind it (tailoring legislation to appease “the will of the people”) undermines the principles, implicit and explicit, of our constitution.

    Perhaps the manner in which our representatives are elected ought to be reformed. Yep, I’ll be sure to hold my breath.

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