Arizona Internet Censorship Bill So Ridiculous, Even The MPAA And RIAA Are Against It
by Mike Masnick
A new bill has passed through the Arizona state legislature that would allow for broad censorship of the internet. As with many such bills, this one is weakly "disguised" as an attempt to deal with online "bullying" and "stalking." However, as with many such attempts to outlaw "being a jerk" online, this one goes way, way too far. It says that it's unlawful to "annoy or offend" someone online, for example. The bill is so bad that even Media Coalition -- a group backed by the MPAA and the RIAA is arguing against it.
The specifics of the bill take an existing law meant to stop harassing phone calls and applies it broadly to the internet. As Media Coalition points out, the bill:
... takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on web sites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication. H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person.
As Eugene Volokh notes in his own discussion of the bill, a telephone is a one-to-one device. The internet is many-to-many, and it makes for a very different situation when you're talking about content designed to annoy or offend:
Telephones are basically one-to-one devices, so a phone call that uses profane language to offend is likely meant only to offend the one recipient, rather than to persuade or inform anyone; but computers used to post Facebook messages or send Twitter messages or post blog items can offend some listeners while persuading and informing others. So, under the statute, posting a comment to a newspaper article — or a blog — saying that the article or post author is “fucking out of line” would be a crime: It’s said with intent to offend, it uses an electronic or digital device, and it uses what likely will be seen as profane language (see, e.g., City of Columbia Falls v. Bennett (Mont. 1991)). Likewise if a blog poster were to post the same in response to a commenter’s comment. Likewise if someone posts something in response to an e-mail on an e-mail-based discussion list, or in a chatroom, or wherever else. (Note that if “profane” is read to mean not vulgarly insulting, but instead religiously offensive, see City of Bellevue v. Lorang (Wash. 2000), then the statute would be unconstitutional as well.)
The same would be true if someone posts something lewd in one of these places in order to annoy or offend someone, for instance if he posts a comment on a police-run public discussion page that says something like “the chief of police can suck my dick,” to borrow subject matter from a prior Arizona telephone harassment case. And note that, given that case, the speech need not even be about one of the recipients, so long as it’s intended to annoy or offend one of the recipients.
It still amazes me that politicians think that these are good ideas. They're grandstanding against "cyberbullying", of course, but if they're going to pass laws that have a major impact on the internet, can't they at least talk to someone who understands this stuff first? AZ-HB-2549s-as-passed-by-legislature
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