NEW LAW - Annoying Anonymous
bloggers may be Felons!
January 10, 2006
On January 5, 2006,
President Bush signed into law a prohibition on transmitting
about people without disclosing their true
identity. When enforced, the criminal sanctions of this
law heralds the end of anonymous
bloggers spewing forth libel and defamation with no fear of
retribution, and this new law that should have a immediate positive impact
on blogging and improve the reliability and verifiability of information published on
The provision of the
Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act,
47 USC 223, makes it a Federal Offense for anyone
to post something annoying or abusive without revealing their true
identity. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in
prison. This new law is highly lauded by victims of anonymous
bloggers who attempt to ruin the reputations of private citizens by
posting lies and innuendo.
This is an add-on to
existing libel laws that make a person responsible for what they
publish on the Internet. Also, many states have
“false light” statutes making it illegal to defame someone
online, even if the statements are true.
This article titled “
an e-annoyance, go to jail” makes it
clear that anonymous blogging about another person is now a Felony
if it annoys them:
“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.”
This new legislation heralds the end of the
anonymous blogger, who hides behind their anonymity to post false
and defamatory statements about individuals. Here is the text of
this important new law that makes it a crime to annoy someone
"Whoever...utilizes any device or
software that can be used to originate telecommunications or
other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or
in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and
with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any
person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under
title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
The central issues in this new law are the
terms “annoying” or “abusive” which would clearly include libelous,
defamatory or statements that paint someone in a ”false light”
criminal acts. Prior to signing this bill into law, libel and false
light claims were civil torts, not punishable by criminal sanctions.
But not everyone agrees that this law applies
to blogs, message boards and forums. This anonymous
blogger (who claims to be an attorney) says that the law was
intended to prevent cyberstalking and it may not apply to bloggers
because the law states that the annoying message must be lewd and it
must be "transmitted".
extension to "the Internet" is referring to one who "makes a
telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications device." A
computer can be a "telecommunications device," but a blog
--Also lost in the hysteria is the fact that the "transmission"
must be "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent." Again,
I'm not endorsing the law or the amendment generally, or these
terms specifically. But it deserves repeating that it is
now a crime merely to have an anonymous blog or to post an
anonymous message on Usenet that somebody, somewhere, finds
Mr. Kip fails to recognize that the act of
publishing a blog comment or message board posting is clearly a
transmission, but hey, we will leave it for the courts to decide.
In this article John Stith notes that people
now have the right to report anonymous blogger annoyance crimes to
the FBI, but that the FBI may not have the resources to bring the
Felons to justice:
“Each case of annoyance becomes a
federal crime. It would be difficult to conceive of the FBI or
NSA arresting people every single time they annoyed someone.
With millions of bloggers and even more commenters, there is no
practical way to enforce this, none. There's just no way to do
Then there's the chilling effect part.
This could apply to blogs, chat rooms, forums, and even
newspaper editorials that took a perhaps snarky side of things.”
the book on
protection from Cyberstalkers