Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime.
It’s no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.
In other words, it’s OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.
This ridiculous prohibition, which would likely imperil much of Usenet, is buried in the so-called Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.
“The use of the word ‘annoy’ is particularly problematic,” says Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “What’s annoying to one person may not be annoying to someone else.”
It’s illegal to annoy
A new federal law states that when you annoy someone on the Internet, you must disclose your identity. Here’s the relevant language.
“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.”
Buried deep in the new law 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.
So, this blog breaks the law because I’m sure I annoy someone. The definitions of annoy, etc. may get me into trouble. I ain’t stopping. Come and get me.
Update: Look up. Me and the cobloggers should coordinate better. Or, you know, coordinate in general.