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article imageInternet censorship? Arizona law could outlaw trolling on the web

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By Leigh Goessl     Apr 3, 2012 in Internet
A new proposed law in Arizona is currently sitting on the desk of Gov. Jan Brewer awaiting signature. If signed, this could potentially have extensive ramifications, including a form of Internet censorship.
Already signed by Arizona politicians, if passed into law, Arizona House Bill 2549, designed to combat activities such as bullying and stalking, could have a broader impact than initially envisioned by lawmakers.
According to First Amendment rights group Media Coalition, Bill 2549 updates Arizona's telephone harassment law, seeking to include all electronic devices.
Bill 2549 has been updated to read: “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.”
"It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous electronic or digital communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the communications were received."
The perceived problem is that the bill does not limit to one-to-one communications, and theoretically could apply to the whole Internet. This means any comment, forum post, blog post or other public web spaces where discussions or shared thoughts take place could be held accountable if deemed in violation of the law.
If interpreted in a broader fashion, it could equate to squashing some of the basics of web philosophies, primarily freedom of expression. Media Coalition states the bill would criminalize "all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying."
"Government may criminalize speech that rises to the level of harassment and many states have laws that do so, but this legislation takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on web sites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication. H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people," Media Coalition wrote in a letter to Gov. Brewer.
Media Coalition continues to point out the ambiguity in the law stating, "The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person."
Not unlike other laws where often lawmakers intentions are good, but are shortsighted in looking at the bigger picture. Time's Techland points out its another "knee-jerk technology legislation."
Many people are annoyed by trolls and/or disruptive comments made on any given platform residing on the web, and it's one thing if the owner of a website removes posts deemed written to incite, but it's another thing to send one to jail for it. If found guilty, depending on the level and whether or not deemed a misdemeanor or felony in Arizona, an offender could spend 6 months to 25 years in jail.
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