The end of blogs?

It is now against the law to post a anonymous comment on a blog if it “annoys” another party.

I am not kidding you. This is the ultimate Christmas gift to politicians.

“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.”

President Bush signed this into law on January 5th 2006 when he signed the H.R. 3402, the “Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005”.

Declan McCullagh at cnet writes:

“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.”

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.

The tactic worked. The bill cleared the House of Representatives by voice vote, and the Senate unanimously approved it Dec. 16.

There’s an interesting side note. An earlier version that the House approved in September had radically different wording. It was reasonable by comparison, and criminalized only using an “interactive computer service” to cause someone “substantial emotional harm.”

That kind of prohibition might make sense. But why should merely annoying someone be illegal?

There are perfectly legitimate reasons to set up a Web site or write something incendiary without telling everyone exactly who you are.

Think about it: A woman fired by a manager who demanded sexual favors wants to blog about it without divulging her full name. An aspiring pundit hopes to set up the next A frustrated citizen wants to send e-mail describing corruption in local government without worrying about reprisals.

28 Responses to “The end of blogs?”

  1. #9 says:

    That’s pretty funny. By the time I had finished my post I see you had already fisked this out. Good work.

  2. Nate says:

    And don’t forget, since the penalty is up to two years… no more guns for you, even if you end up with community service or a small fine.

  3. JJ says:

    I think the whole phrase is “intent to annoy”. Good luck proving that in court…

  4. SayUncle says:

    jj, juries are pretty stupid. on purpose.

  5. bob says:

    Going by the criteria listed in the article I’m sure I could come up with a few dozen felon-candidates in less than an hour. The anonymous comments on some blogs seem to have as their primary (only?) purpose to be to annoy someone. Even those that are not anonymous often use a pseudonym.

    If President Bush truly believed in the principle of limited government (it is in his official bio), he’d realize that the law he signed cannot be squared with the Constitution he swore to uphold.

    And then he’d repeat what President Clinton did a decade ago when he felt compelled to sign a massive telecommunications law. Clinton realized that the section of the law punishing abortion-related material on the Internet was unconstitutional, and he directed the Justice Department not to enforce it.

    Sure would be nice if Presidents did take their oath of office seriously, but that doesn’t seem to have happened in the several decades. And Clinton signing the bill while explicitly recognizing that it is not in accord with the u.S. Constitution is just one more black mark against him; all he did was leave it there for some other low life to use at a future date.

    That ‘awkward time’ seems to be coming closer and closer to an end.

  6. The law is as unenforceable as the FEC anti-blogger rules. It is practically begging for a court challenge.

    I’m an anono-blogger, and I’m not worried.

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  8. JJ says:

    My name is my name. go to my blog and see. I am not sure why I can be intentionally annoying (as opposed to my normal unintentional annoying) and be safe, but SayUncle can’t be intentionally annoying and run a risk. Seems like Congress needs an internet consultant…

    I volunteer for $135k/year.

  9. David Codrea says:

    Am I reading this wrong? The way I read this, you can do your OWN blog anonymously–but you can’t go to someone ELSE’s blog and leave anonymous comments intended to harass.

    Regardless, this is hardly a legitimate delegated authority of government. It seems to me bloggers are free to allow or disallow comments, anonymous or otherwise, including monitoring of same.

    God forbid the parasites should let the free market work things out without anybody coercing or threatening anybody else.

  10. Another law that was not debated in a public forum before being stealthly passed? why am I not suprised?

  11. […] Bloggers Respond: SayUncle: “This is the ultimate Christmas gift to politicians.” […]

  12. Blounttruth says:

    I think I may change my blog to: How to use a proxy server.

  13. #9 says:

    Speaking of proxy servers.

  14. Les Jones says:

    No legal scholar I, but I seem to recall several SCOTUS rulings in my lifetime that upheld the constitutional right to anonymous political speech.

  15. Joe Huffman says:

    SCOTUS, US Constitution, US law, whatever… It doesn’t matter. Rules are selectively enforced and/or ignored by whoever is in power. Ask me in private sometime for a list of the ones I personally know about.

    What I want to know is how anyone thinks this makes sense. If you are anonymous then there is no way they can catch you unless you confess and, assuming the 5th Amendment still holds any weight, you can’t be forced to confess. If they can track you down then you aren’t anonymous and you haven’t comitted any crime.

  16. _Jon says:

    What about the members of Congress who didn’t uphold *their* oath?
    One guy’s signature doesn’t absolve them of their responsability to not send him laws that are illegal. In fact, he could have not signed it and it _still_ would have become law.

    What Clinton did is illegal. If it’s law, then it needs to be enforced. “Selective enforcement” has worked so well with regard to the illegal immigration issues…..

    Good points Huffman.

    I remember when Levin was interviewed regarding the portions of the DCMA that were challenged. Paraphrasing from memory; ‘Well, we need to push the limits of what we can control.” I was shocked. So much so that I can still see the interview.


    And this is my name, but my e-mail isn’t.
    Not everyone’s name is unique. How can such a law be enforced without complete – perfect – identification systems on Al Gore’s Internets?


    /kicking things

  17. F.O.M. says:

    Just to insure I make it on this list too…

    Arlen Spector is a cocksucker. Not just this idiotic bill, but him personally. He is ugly too.

  18. Marc says:

    Which annoying commenters do you think will be prosecuted? I bet that the only commenters who end up with a problem are those who annoy members of the .gov or other connected VIPs.

  19. #9 says:

    Memo to President Bush:

    Remember the line item veto.

  20. T3rrible says:

    Forgive my ignorance but how does someone go about enforcing this? Does you have to be turned in to get into trouble and if so, then how do they know who to turn in? Afterall you were anynomous.

    The more I think about it, this my be the stupidest thing I have seen in recent memory.

  21. T3rrible says:

    spell check must be broken.

  22. Xrlq says:

    #9: there is no line item veto.

    Uncle: Now that it has been pretty well demonstrated that McCullagh is full of crap, dontcha think an update to this post might be in order?

  23. michele Says: Yet another case of bloggers who don’t read and instead regurgitating erroneous opinions based on erroneous information. The result: a major disservice to the public and winding up looking like the unreliable sources of information they are.

    Uh… what Uncle said, and…

    Like I said yesterday, there was no debate on this little gem, it was slipped in to a must pass bill. Not very nice. It’s suppose to be “by and for the people”, remember? I’ve linked to this little article by Claire before, but damn if it keeps coming in handy. Check out this-

    Second, you’ve got “annoy” entirely too near “up to 2 years in jail”. Think about that that a little bit. Like Nate said the other day, get busted for annoying someone somehow however broadly this is applied (hint, think RICO) and as far as the government is concerned, you lose your RKBA forever. (Unless you’re as rich and connected as Mark Rich.)

  24. _Jon says:

    Where is this quoted from:?
    “michele Says: Yet another case of bloggers who don’t read and instead regurgitating erroneous opinions based on erroneous information. The result: a major disservice to the public and winding up looking like the unreliable sources of information they are.”

  25. #9 says:

    Yes, I found that out. Thanks Supreme Court, for nothing.

    So how do we hold Congress accountable for the little games they play?

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