Does this article – or maybe just the headline – annoy, offend or terrify you? If so, it may soon be illegal in Arizona.
The state's legislature has passed a bill which would update an existing telephone harassment law to apply to the Internet and other forms of electronic communication. The problem, though, is that it dramatically broadens the scope, making it potentially criminal to even marginally offend someone when they aren’t even the target of the “offensive” communication.
As outlined by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, “the bill is sweepingly broad, and would make it a crime to communicate – via any electronic means – speech that is intended to 'annoy,' 'offend,' 'harass' or 'terrify,' as well as certain sexual speech. Because the bill is not limited to one-to-one communications, House Bill 2549 would apply to the Internet as a whole, thus criminalizing all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying."
The lawmakers’ concern is quite understandable: more and more stories of cyber bullying appear every day, and racially, sexually and morally offensive comments and interactions are, sadly, a frequent sight on the web.
But in their rush to protect Arizona citizens from harm, legislators seem to have forgotten one key thing: to define all those terms that they are trying to deem punishable.
Words like ‘lewd’ or ‘profane’ are not defined by statute, or in reference. Most people understand ‘lewd’ to mean of a lusty or sexual nature, and ‘profane’ is disrespectful of religious beliefs and practices. And how does one define ‘annoying,’ when it’s so individual?
Section one of this law is so vague, in fact, that a person could be prosecuted because a friend of a friend of a friend found a Facebook post offensive. Which is ridiculous, as I, for example, get annoyed by my friends posting carefree vacation updates while I’m stuck behind a desk at work. And I get terrified by people posting pictures of the sphynx, the hairless cats which everyone colloquially refers to as naked. (Speaking of which, if they are ‘naked’ and someone posts their pictures, does that constitute lewd online conduct?)
I’m also pretty sure we all know people who would be offended by religious discourse of the ‘is there a God?’