CommunityPam's House Blend

Watch out trolls, Chimpy gave me the power…

From Declan McCullagh, CNET News.com‘s Washington, D.C., correspondent, yet another manifestation of the paranoia running rampant in the Bush admin and the Repug-dominated Congress — boneheaded, poorly written legislation that manages to get passed and signed. But hey, it may fix rampant troll problems…

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.”

…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.”

Thanks to Blender Juan for the pointer.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding