Adult Cyber Bullying- Should laws protecting children also be applied toward the safety of Adults? Part III
Perspective: Create an e-annoyance, go to jail
Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime. And that irritates CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh.
By Declan McCullagh
Published: January 9, 2006, 4:00 AM PST
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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.
A law meant to annoy?
FAQ: The new 'annoy' law explained
A practical guide to the new federal law that aims to outlaw certain types of annoying Web sites and e-mail.
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 Suck.com. A frustrated citizen wants to send e-mail describing corruption in local government without worrying about reprisals.
In each of those three cases, someone's probably going to be annoyed. That's enough to make the action a crime. (The Justice Department won't file charges in every case, of course, but trusting prosecutorial discretion is hardly reassuring.)
Clinton Fein, a San Francisco resident who runs the Annoy.com site, says a feature permitting visitors to send obnoxious and profane postcards through e-mail could be imperiled.
"Who decides what's annoying? That's the ultimate question," Fein said. He added: "If you send an annoying message via the United States Post Office, do you have to reveal your identity?"
Fein once sued to overturn part of the Communications Decency Act that outlawed transmitting indecent material "with intent to annoy." But the courts ruled the law applied only to obscene material, so Annoy.com didn't have to worry.
"I'm certainly not going to close the site down," Fein said on Friday. "I would fight it on First Amendment grounds."
He's right. 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 News.com's chief political correspondent. He spent more than a decade in Washington, D.C., chronicling the busy intersection between technology and politics. Previously, he was the Washington bureau chief for Wired News, and a reporter for Time.com, Time magazine and HotWired. McCullagh has taught journalism at American University and been an adjunct professor at Case Western University.
As you can see,SOMETHING is being done and this issue is getting the attention of legislators. This issue is being noticed. These issues are being addressed and HARSHLY I might add. AND these laws are all inclusive. Adults and their respective behavior is addressed in this law.
It is worthy to mention that the crime committed against lil Megan Meier was committed by an Adult. AN ADULT! HOW CAN ANY ADULT act this way? AND GET AWAY with it?
The law above is a bit scary by its definition for anyone who frequents forums providing community socializing. An "annoyance" can be deemed to be something as simple as a personality conflict between two screen names. However, if a real person is linked to that screen name as a mandatory measure, as proposed in this law, for using any forum of community socializing, my bet would be that these screen names would change their behavior quickly and keep it appropriate to the venue.
But, having a real name linked to a screen name is kind of scary too. IT only exposes an individual even more for the whole of cyber world to see and possibly use against someone.
So where is there a happy medium? Is there a happy medium? How far left/right must we go to bring us back centered? Right now cyber abuse is so widespread and growing that it needs strict and scary guidelines policing it and even to squealch it out as much as possible.
IS THERE a law that will make an ADULT act like an ADULT?
The links provided below attest to the fact that many States are looking into legislation that is especially for cyber abuse for EVERYONE using the INTERNET.
- More Officials Cracking Down on Internet Harassment
- To Name Or Not To Name (the St. Charles Journal discusses its reasons for not naming Drew in its original stories about the Meier case)
- Cyberbullying Suicide Stokes the Internet Fury Machine
- Blog Readers Out Anonymous Adults that Newspaper Refused to Identify
If you are not convinced now, click on the link below that is a page of cyber crimes that include every kind of abuse one can think of provided to me by MOONSHADOW542:
Search results for "Click here: Crime and the Internet"
Anyone saying or asserting that this is a wasted effort on my part (as one particular stalker has been saying in my comments section,) is clearly out of touch and has lost sight of what is appropriate online behavior and what is not. Or maybe this stalker is an abuser and sees nothing wrong with it. ONE THING IS SURE, the stalker is an ADULT.
Blaming the victim or putting the burden on the victim to give up a venue of socializing to stop being abused only fuels and feeds the abuse and the abuser. This so called "adult playground" as this stalker termed it is what? A right for adults to act like bullies? We are supposed to be adults for goodness sake!
I think the laws have to be harsh and strict to get this cyber abuses in line and back under control so no more CHILDREN or adults will die or have a threat of dying coming at them out of cyber land. The above law meets with my approval to a point. IT PUTS THE BURDEN on me to ACT ACCORDINGLY and since "annoyance" is so loose in its clarity and definition, I think I shall act by not acting at all. In other words, I think I will cease from participating in any chat room or venue such as a chat room that might cause me to be human and respond to an attack that could be deemed annoying. I think maybe others should follow this practice as well. Especially those abusers that enjoy abusing. Unless they want to be the first one tried under this new law and I bet there will be someone sick enough of the cyber abuse and who uses this law as a remedy.
ANYONE game? Who wants to be first to test the viability of this law? Not I! How about you?
For now, this concludes my Part III of this series and be looking for Part IV of this series which is the conclusion of my reporting on this matter.
AGAIN, thank you for reading...~~~~
Adult Cyber Bullying- Should laws protecting children also be applied toward the safety of Adults... Part IV http://members.nowpublic.com/crime/adult-cyber-bullying-should-laws-protecting-children-also-be-applied-toward-safety-adults-part-iv-and-final