According to News.com “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.” From the text of the poorly named, wide-reaching bill — Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act:
A new federal law states that when you annoy someone on the Internet, you must disclose your identity. Here’s the relevant language.
“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.”
If you’re wondering how I extrapolated that anonymous “annoyance” of the government via blogging could land you in jail, just imagine that I just called president George Bush and both houses of Congress “swastika licking pig-fuckers.” Not a very nice thing to say, and certainly not the type of slanderous comment you’d want to be flinging around, but an annoyance? Sure, it could be.
Now imagine a blogger has breaking news on a true and provable government scandal, or is a whistleblower for government corruption with factual documents, and to avoid retribution they post it anonymously. This would obviously be an annoyance to anyone implicated by the anonymous blogger, and they could have that person thrown in jail regardless. Not since the Alien and Sedition Acts — which made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against government or government officials — has the government tried so desperately to curb dissent (excuse me, annoyance).
Think about that, and ask yourself whether Congress and George Bush are indeed “swastika licking pig-fuckers.” Because even if the literal doesn’t hold water, the sentiment is certainly gaining credibility as they sign yet another law that promises to have a chilling effect on first amendment rights. And besides, pig-fucking is just my way of being hip to the bloated bureacracy both Republicans and Democrats have created. Pot-ay-toh, pot-ah-to. Pork barrelling, pig fucking.
As for me and my brushes with the annoyance law, I’ll gladly blog anonymously to annoy as many government officials as I can, proudly waving my first amendment rights like some colonial pornographic flick featuring Samuel Adams, a tub of astroglide and King George III. So come and get me, you swastika licking pig-fuckers, if you dare.
SayUncle: “This is the ultimate Christmas gift to politicians.”
Homeland Stupidity: “Among other things, this bill has forced me to remove the pseudonym which I had previously used and replace it with my real name all across the site.”
Slashdot reader comment: “The point of all this bullshit is simply to create a web of laws which can be used to ensnare anybody.”
Another from Slashdot: “It should be a crime to prosecute someone unconstitutionally.”
Fark comment: “Thankfully, President Bush is the right man at the right time to protect our rights from the evils of the written and posted word.”
Another Farker: “Doesn’t this sort of violate the Freedom of Speech? You know, the part where you make anonymous statements against the government without fear of reprisal?”
Nigel Watt of Libertarian Youth isn’t worried: “I see the stunning incompetence of our legislators in writing this bill as a good thing: a better-nuanced version could have passed by judicial scrutiny as a ‘justifiable’ infringement upon our rights, but such a broad and groping assault on free speech as this law couldn’t stand up in any court.”
UPDATE: Ok, this may turn out to be nothing more than a tempest in a teapot according to an update at Boing Boing:
Uh, try again. Maybe you guys should read the text of the bill… this is a wildly inaccurate interpretation of the bill, in which the word “annoy” appears not once. The word “annoy” appears in *existing* legislation (Communications Act of 1934) and it does not include any communication a recipient might find annoying. Furthermore, the identity provision is not specified in the amendment discussed. Your article is, indeed, a joke.
There’s also a lawyerly interpretation, but it made my head hurt, so let’s just hope that this is all just a big misunderstanding and see if CNET’s Declan McCullagh will clarify the implications of the new bill in his original article (or maybe a lawyer reader will be so kind as to inform us whether this was all for naught).