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NEW LAW - Annoying Anonymous bloggers may be Felons!


January 10, 2006

On January 5, 2006, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on transmitting annoying messages 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 web.

The provision of the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act, Federal Law 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 “

Create an e-annoyance, go to jail

” makes it clear that anonymous blogging about another person is now a Felony if it annoys them:

http://news.com.com/Create+an+e-annoyance,+go+to+jail/2010-1028_3-6022491.html

“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 anonymously online:

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:HR03402:@@@L&summ2=m&

"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". 

http://kipesquire.powerblogs.com/posts/1136853945.shtml

“The 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 cannot.

--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

not

now a crime merely to have an anonymous blog or to post an anonymous message on Usenet that somebody, somewhere, finds "annoying."”

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:

http://www.securitypronews.com/news/securitynews/spn-45-20060109SomeoneAnnoyYouOnTheNetCalltheFBI.html

“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 it.

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.”

Also see the book on protection from Cyberstalkers


 

 
 
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