|New Arizona law questioned by many|
|Written by Abby Causer, Daily Vidette Columnist|
|Thursday, 12 April 2012 14:12|
Arizona has yet again come out with more questionable legislation, but the good news is that this one isn’t rooted in hatred and bigotry for a change. The bad news is that the legislation is still pretty bad.
Arizona House Bill 2549 proposes a change to the Telecommunications Harassment Bill that would include online harassment. The actual text of the bill would say:
“It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy, or offend, to use ANY ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICE and use any obscene, lewd, or profane language, or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.”
Lawmakers say that the bill is meant to deter online bullying, which seems altruistic enough, but the premise of the bill is much too broad. Outlawing “obscene, lewd, or profane language” would shut down, well, the whole Internet. It would outlaw everyday behavior; for example, comments on most online news and opinion articles like this one would violate the law.
Facebook? Done. F My Life? Illegal. Even a simple “screw you” text to your buddy could be classified as a class 1 misdemeanor, sometimes carrying a $2,500 fine or jail sentence. Writing some mockery on our friends’ Facebook walls should not result in a fine if it could be considered “offensive” by lawmakers.
According to Derek Bambauer, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in Internet law quoted in a Huffington Post article, “The Internet would shut down if this bill were judged to be constitutionally sound — everything annoying or offensive said online would be caught up in it. This is plainly unconstitutional.
The language of the bill is also too vague. What do any of these words mean exactly? “Annoy, offend, terrify?” Most of my opinion columns probably offend some students, but they are still posted online. Lots of my classmates and Facebook friends annoy me, but I don’t think they should be prosecuted. Those “when you see it … ” memes certainly terrify me, but such are the risks one takes on the Internet.
I understand that those are not the types of things the law targets, but those are perhaps the types of the things the law could be misconstrued to address. The “I’ll know it when I see it” rule in determining if something is indecent doesn’t work very often, and I think it could be dangerous if applied here. To leave the law as it is, open to anyone’s interpretation, would be a crucial mistake.
There’s also the whole violating the First Amendment guarantee to the freedom of speech thing. So we have made laws that restrict some speech, like yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. However, saying simply that someone can’t “annoy” someone else is definitely an overstep. If you need more of an elaboration on this point, I don’t know what to tell you except to read the U.S. Constitution.
Again, I really appreciate Arizona trying to do something decent for once, but I think they have taken the wrong route to get there. After the big splash this news story made on the Internet, lawmakers are reportedly reviewing and reworking the law. I’m not sure how they can possibly make it work without rewriting the whole thing.
If the law is left as is, I might sue the State of Arizona because their laws terrify and offend me.