Ken over at Popehat had a great article about a proposed cyber-bullying law in Connecticut. While he later reports the bill may have died in committee, it is still instructive to look at it, as its twin may well get passed in AZ and many other states are proposing such laws faster than the little animals pop up in a whack-a-mole game.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that these are all stealth attempts to protect politicians and public officials from criticism. Look at the proposed law in CT:
(a) A person commits electronic harassment when such person, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, transmits, posts, displays or disseminates, by or through an electronic communication device, radio, computer, Internet web site or similar means, to any person, a communication, image or information, which is based on the actual or perceived traits or characteristics of that person, which:
(1) Places that person in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or property;
(2) Has a substantial and detrimental effect on that person's physical or mental health;
(3) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person's academic performance, employment or other community activities or
(4) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person's ability to participate in or benefit from any academic, professional or community-based services, activities or privileges; or
(5) Has the effect of causing substantial embarrassment or humiliation to that person within an academic or professional community.
One of the tricks of these laws is to mix and thereby conflate outrageous behavior most all of us are willing to restrict (e.g. make a credible threat to someone's life) with everyday behaviors such as annoying people.
Let's say I were to write in my blog that, say, Joe Arpaio is an jerk and should not get re-elected. Let's analyze the statement
- It's transmitted electronically
- It will very likely annoy Arpaio, since he is known to be annoyed by all criticism
- I am trying very hard to interfere with his employment by preventing his re-election
By this law, therefore, even this relatively mild criticism is illegal. In fact, since all criticisms of politicians can be said to negatively affect their re-election chances, by part 3 any political criticism online would be illegal.
I honestly don't think this is a bug, it is a feature. Already police departments and other public officials are using cyber-bullying laws to stomp on those who criticize them.