Arizona House Bill 2549 has been sent to Governor Janice Brewer’s desk and, once signed, will expand the State’s telephone harassment law to include all electronic or digital communications.
Telephone harrassment laws generally apply to two individuals speaking on a telephone, but according to opponents of the new bill there is a danger to free speech because its reach essentially encompasses all digital communications:
… because the bill is not limited to one-to-one communications, H.B. 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.
One must assume that, as Infowars’ Steve Watson points out, “the law, which is being pushed under the guise of an anti-bullying campaign would mean that anything communicated or published online that was deemed to be ‘offensive’ by the state, including editorials, illustrations, and even satire could be criminally punished.”
Facebook would be an obvious target of this legislation, as we have seen numerous recent tragedies surrounding teens that have been bullied on the site by classmates and who then committed suicide. But what well meaning legislators fail to understand is that the broad language they allowed in the law makes it possible for this legislation to be applied across the entire social web sphere including commenting areas, forums, chat rooms, and any digital venue at which people congregate.
Under this legislation the very act of writing (or recording) an opinion piece, criticism or politically incorrect viewpoint could come under fire and lead to prosecution as a misdemeanor or worse.
Offending someone in any of these digital meeting places to the point where they feel threatened or annoyed with you now makes you a criminal if your communications is sent from or received in the State of Arizona:
Section 1. Section 13-2916, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended to
13-2916. Use of an electronic or digital device to terrify,
intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend; classification; definition
A. 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.
B. Any offense committed by use of a telephone AN ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICE as set forth in this section is deemed to have been committed at either the place where the COMMUNICATIONS
18 originated or at the place where the COMMUNICATIONS were received.
Source: Media Coalition [pdf]
Furthermore, you can be charged with a Class 3 felony if prosecuted under Arizona’s revised stalking laws (also part of House 2549), a crime that carries a 2.5 year minimum prison sentence. Like telephone harassment laws, stalking has now been broadly defined by the ‘course of conduct’ you employ while you annoy or offend people:
C. For the purposes of this section:
1. “Course of conduct”:
(a) Means ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
(i) Maintaining visual or physical proximity to a specific person or directing verbal, written or other threats, whether express or implied, to a specific person on two or more occasions over a period of time, however short.
(ii) USING ANY ELECTRONIC, DIGITAL OR GLOBAL POSITIONING SYSTEM DEVICE TO SURVEIL A SPECIFIC PERSON OR A SPECIFIC PERSON’S INTERNET OR WIRELESS ACTIVITY CONTINUOUSLY FOR TWELVE HOURS OR MORE OR ON TWO OR MORE OCCASIONS OVER A PERIOD OF TIME, HOWEVER SHORT.
A “digital” device to surveil a specific person can come in the form of not just physical equipment that you follow someone with, but digital devices that include technologies such as twitter, RSS comment feeds, or social activity tracking applications. Additionally, these software applications can exist on physical devices like smart phones and tablets, meeting even the traditional definitions of surveillance devices. If you engage in internet conversation as it exists today using these digital devices – by simply responding in a forum or comment thread, or publishing a blog article online – you could very well be charged with stalking if your activities fall under harassment statutes. This example shows just how broadly Arizona’s law can be interpreted.
The implications are mind boggling, because in essence, Arizona has just made it possible for any political, ideological, or spiritual speech that annoys, offends or intimidates someone to be not only removed from public view, but prosecuted under harassment laws.
The last time we checked, it is exactly this annoyingly offensive speech that the First Amendment of The United States is intended to protect.