The Arizona state legislature has passed an Internet censorship bill that has provoked the ire of liberty seeking Arizonians. The bill extends telephone harassment laws to the Internet and other means of electronic communication. Under the pretense of being anti-bullying, the bill states that virtually anything said online that is deemed “offensive” by the state, to include editorials, illustrations, etc., could be a punishable offense.
Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy wrote the following about the part of the bill that states that it is “unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use a
telephone 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.”
So, under the statute, posting a comment to a newspaper article — or a blog — saying that the article or post author is “f***ing out of line” would be a crime: It’s said with intent to offend, it uses an electronic or digital device, and it uses what likely will be seen as profane language (see, e.g., City of Columbia Falls v. Bennett (Mont. 1991)). Likewise if a blog poster were to post the same in response to a commenter’s comment. Similarly, if someone posts something in response to an e-mail on an e-mail-based discussion list, or in a chatroom, or wherever else. (Note that if “profane” is read to mean not vulgarly insulting, but instead religiously offensive, see City of Bellevue v. Lorang (Wash. 2000), then the statute would be unconstitutional as well.)
Yeah we all hate it when morons post obscene/profane language on blogs and Twitter, but the government should never be given the right to restrict that right. Even if it is annoying, it is still your right.
I agree with Eugene in saying that if the Arizona legislature wants to ban harassment that is sent directly to a recipient via text-messaging or email, it should by all means be allowed to do so. However, this bill just passed doesn’t do that and just infringes more on your rights.