The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Monday, January 09, 2006

Comment Trolls are Criminals 

No... seriously... the are:

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."

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."

Here is the Whitehouse Press Release on this idiotic law. And of course... this is all in the name of protecting women from more... violence... over the internet? So if let's say... oh I don't know... blast Ann Althouse for being an out there Beatles Fan anonymously on her blog... then I could be breaking the law? And here is the relevant text of the actual law:

"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."

I find this law annoying... can I throw Congress in jail for two years?

Update: Well... things may not be as dire as they first seemed. Check out this post at the Volokh Conspiracy for more details. Basically... the law only applies when the speech wouldn't normally be protected by the 1st Amendment... and is most likely meant to extend the telephone harassment statutes to VOIP.

Update II: And here's another post from The Volokh Conspiracy (from Eugene this time) that's not nearly as encouraging. Although the intent of the law may very well have been to simply extend existing telephone harassment law to VOIP... the way it was written could be much more broadly interpreted.


Hey, I rather like Troll Bowls, especially when they get the zot.

  Posted at January 09, 2006 11:36 PM by Blogger steveegg  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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