Monday, January 09, 2006

Anonymous 'net annoyers headed to jail

Declan McCullagh at CNet has a very interesting article (Create an e-annoyance, go to jail Perspectives CNET News.com) on a new bill that has recently been signed into law in the United States. HR 3402, titled an Act to authorize appropriations for the Department of Justice for fiscal years 2006 through 2009, and for other purposes (emphasis on the "for other purposes") just became law. It is otherwise a standard appropriations bill that renews funding for the federal Department of Justice, except Senator Arlen Spector added a little bit of additional law for good measure. The provision, that in an earlier incarnation was meant to address anonymous stalking and harassing, has the potential for making it a crime to anonymously use the internet to merely annoy somebody.

If you take a look at the bill as passed, you can't find the "annoying part", but it comes from the way it amends an existing telephone harassment law (US CODE: Title 47,223. Obscene or harassing telephone calls in the District of Columbia or in interstate or foreign communications). As amended, that section will look like this:

(a)        Prohibited acts generally

Whoever—

(1)        in interstate or foreign communications— ...

(C) makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications;

shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

(h)        Definitions

For purposes of this section—

(1)        The use of the term “telecommunications device” in this section—

(A)       shall not impose new obligations on broadcasting station licensees and cable operators covered by obscenity and indecency provisions elsewhere in this chapter; and

(B)       does not include an interactive computer service. ; and

(C)       in the case of subparagraph (C) of subsection (a)(1), includes 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 (as such term is defined in section 1104 of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (47 U.S.C. 151 note)).'.

[Corrected - see below]

As you can guess, more than a few people are up in arms about this. Just google "annoy declan" and you'll get at least seventy results.

UPDATE: Thanks to an astute commenter (thanks, Sean) who noticed that I had printed subparagraph (A) and not (C), I've corrected it above. It originally read:

(a)        Prohibited acts generally

Whoever—

(1)        in interstate or foreign communications—

(A)       by means of a telecommunications device knowingly—

(i)         makes, creates, or solicits, and

(ii)        initiates the transmission of,

any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person;

shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

[Snip]

[Anonymity] :: [First Amendment] :: [Specter] :: [Law] :: [Privacy]

2 comments:

Sean said...

The new language applies to subparagraph (C), not subparagraph (A). The relevant language is:

Whoever...in interstate or foreign communications...makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications...shall be fined under Title 18, or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

The language of 47 USC 223(a)(1)(C) is the same as it was before; the new law makes it explicit that it applies to communication that takes place over the Internet.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Declan McCullagh is interpreting the law correctly: http://www.nyu.edu/classes/siva/archives/002638.html