Monday, January 09, 2006

[geek][politics] Intent to... annoy?

[UPDATE - 10-Jan-2006 7:45AM PST: Ann Bartow over at Sivacracy has a great summary of the changes wrought in this bill, and she doesn't think that it's as bad as it initially seems. Seeing as how her profile on the University of South Carolina Law School's site lists her current courses as including "...Cyberspace Law, and Constitutional Law II — Individual Liberties", I think she's just somewhat more qualified to pass judgement on this than I... Net result? Color me cautiously pessimistic - the law is vague in definitions, but probably doesn't apply to blogging, or even, for that matter, email (which strikes me as an odd oversight if harassing email isn't covered at all).] Via Atrios comes this little gem - it is now illegal to annoy someone over the internet:
"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."
Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Let's repeat that together, shall we? "intent to annoy" This language, buried in the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (and the overall appropriation for the Justice Department), has now created a new category of Federal crime: that of being annoying while anonymous. Yeah, I'm sure that'll survive Constitutional scrutiny. Interestingly enough, the most recent version of the bill to be found on Thomas.loc.gov is not the version signed into law; it's the version that the House passed back in September. Trying to get the GPO's text of the bill results in this:
No Such Document
docid-> publ162.109
IPaddress-> 162.140.64.21
dbname-> 109_cong_public_laws
Here's the thing - if you plod through all of the amendments to the bill (assuming you can do so before your Thomas search times out), you won't find this phrase at all. What they did was to expand the definition of crank telephone calls (a law dating to 1934) to apply to all internet/electronic-based communications. I guess I could be committing a crime by blogging pseudonymously, then... Good thing it's a criminal offense and not a civil offense, eh? (Okay, think about the implications of that statement, then get back to me, okay?)

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