One of the more recent controversies across the blogosphere has been a law recently signed into effect by President Bush which states, among other things,
“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.”
Like everyone else reading those words, I was immediately shocked, appalled, and I concluded with the majority that this would get stricken down by the courts as soon as it was challenged. And then I gave it little thought, satisfied that the Supreme Court would save me from yet another of Bush’s ineptitudes.
Perhaps I was a little hasty.
First off, I didn’t look at the law in depth. Because the context of the oft-copypasted quote is missing from most blogs. I happened upon the context at and the bill is more pussycat than tiger. Check it out:
For purposes of this section:
(1) The use of the term “telecommunications device” in this section:
(A) shall not impose new obligations on broadcasting station licensees and cable operators covered by obscenity and indecency provisions elsewhere in this chapter;
(B) does not include an interactive computer service; and
(C) in the case of subparagraph (C) of subsection (a)(1), includes 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 (as such term is defined in section 1104 of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (47 U.S.C. 151 note)).’.
Surprising to us libertarians, I know; the government, moreso Bush, is actually not screwing us over for once.
But there’s still something lingering in my head about all this… perhaps the government ought to have a bigger role in the Internet.
Okay, okay… before I get force initiated upside my face, let me explain. I don’t want internet taxes, regulations or anything like that. It’s just that there are things which are criminal in the real world that, once online are suddenly no longer crimes. Basic stuff, like murder, kidnapping, harassment, threats, property damage, et cetera. These are initiations of force that come from the private sector too; the whole purpose of government is to protect us from those private-sector harms. After all, how can you say you’re free in a world where you can be threatened, abused, even killed without having any recourse to the law or even to self-defense?
I’ve had ample reason to ponder this, too-on my website, there are two trolls who were banned several months ago for significantly disrupting the site’s forum. Since then, they haven’t moved on, but have orchestrated to register puppet accounts with which to start flamewars, harass the regulars-one time, they even managed to get the site shut down for a few days. Reasoning is useless to them-they apparently have nothing better to do, and there is no force of law preventing them from doing this, so what can I do? It’s the Internet so I can’t reasonably file suit against them-the plane tickets alone would ruin my meager funds.
Even self-defense isn’t a viable option. I know some HTML and CSS, like most good webmasters do. But hacking-the only true “weapon” of the Web, is a skill possessed by a select few. I can’t just go out and buy an e-gun and with some quick basic training be able to defend my property against intruders. Theoretically, I could put some of them on my payroll to defend against trolls and such, but I (and most other webmasters) can’t afford that. Besides, even the legality of the practice is questionable-I could get in trouble with the law for defending what is mine.
So why aren’t we advocating some way to protect online property rights like we advocate the protection of real-life property rights? I paid the same hard cash for both, but only one is protected by law. The LP, and pretty much any other party out there, needs to come up with a way to enforce property, civil and human rights online in a way that is fair but unobtrusive to constitutionally-supported endeavors like dissent and free speech.