Thursday, January 12, 2006

Flaming is now a federal crime

Flaming is now a federal crime, if you don't sign your real name to the online "annoyance".

I hate the pampered, sissyboy political crap going on in this weak, soft, flabby wreck of a country.

Look out, because First Blood is probably my favorite movie, and I just watched it again on dorky television.

Thanks to Carrie Snell, of A Grain of Salt aka The Wrath of Grapes blog, for this find.

She quotes a paragraph from last week's CNET report by good guy Declan McCullough, their political news correspondent.

From Declan's January 6, 2006 article on my beloved CNET, entitled "Create an e-annoyance, go to jail"


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.

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.

[snip--deleted some text]

Our esteemed politicians can't seem to grasp this simple point, but the First Amendment protects our right to write something that annoys someone else.

It even shields our right to do it anonymously. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas defended this principle magnificently in a 1995 case involving an Ohio woman who was punished for distributing anonymous political pamphlets.

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.

Bush has the chance to show his respect for what he calls Americans' personal freedoms. Now we'll see if the president rises to the occasion.


Declan McCullagh is CNET's Washington, D.C., correspondent. He chronicles the busy intersection between technology and politics.

Before that, he worked for several years as Washington bureau chief for Wired News. He has also worked as a reporter for The Netly News, Time magazine and HotWired.


How do you like this great country now?

And you wonder why I'm an Ethical Anarchist.

More and more, with each passing day, I loathe and hate ALL politicians.

Dumb-asses all: right and left, repub and demo, they're are all working against you, because you are dumb enough to "believe" in government, letting others do your thinking for you.

A wrecked world is what we live in.

Flame on, annoy everybody, but use your real name kiddies. Or the "government", which is just a bunch of schmucks farting their asses away in office buildings, will slap that thunder blunt right out of your mouth, and you'll have milk shooting out your nose.

My fans know what my cryptix mean.

[signed] Steven Edward Streight aka Vaspers the Grate


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