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January 10, 2006
Anonymous Trolls, Beware: You Are Breaking Federal Laws
Apparently, it is now against federal law to anonymously "annoy" people on the Internet. So if you want to call me a lunatic, or basically just disagree with something I write, remember to use your real name, or you might get busted!
[from Create an e-annoyance, go to jail | Perspectives | CNET News.com by Declan McCullagh]
Buried deep in the new law [the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act] 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." 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.
This is rich, obviously a case of unintended consequences, and yet another example of the paralyzing impact of inherent social conservativism smooshing into the Web. In the interests of trying to stop "cyberstalking," the US Legislature may have created a means to quash one of the last means available to individuals who wish to state their opinions online without the fear of repercussions. Note that the EFF has recommended that employees who wish to state their personal opinions about anything that is controversial should do so anonymously, to avoid the possibility of losing their jobs or other reprisals.
And "annoy" is a flabby term. Anyway, I am certain that this is unconstitutional, or at least I hope it is.
[pointer from Jeff Jarvis, who notes "The way we’re headed — from the PC left and the religious right — it surely will soon be a crime to offend, too."]
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