Annoy the Government Anonymously: Go to Jail?

Constitution burningAccording to “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.

Bloggers Respond:
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).


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  1. I actually look at this as a good thing; written better, it would have been an onerous but “justifiable” infringement upon our speech; written as it is, any judge with a brain in his/her head would knock it down.

    I’ll post about it later today.

  2. the slashdot comments kind of sum this up. it’s a pretty standard tactic used by some corporations against their employees. if you have enough laws (rules) then when you decide you dislike someone for purely personal or political reasons, they will have broken one of them at some point.

    all are guilty.

    for the record, george bush and both houses of congress are swastika licking pickfuckers.

    the rev.

  3. I agree that “annoy” is an unconstitutionally vague term.

    Having said that, I don’t see how this applies to websites, and it especially can’t apply to blogs. I don’t “transmit” my blog anywhere and no one “receives” it involuntarily — readers seek it out by their own volition without any action by me. No actus reus, and therefore no criminal act.

    This is about anonymous emails, not websites.

  4. Stephen, I’m nto quite sure which link you’re referring to, but both y’all’s link to me and mine to this page seem to be in good working order.

  5. You really want to be sure you don’t anonymously post something annoying about a candidate just before an election. Then you’d breaking two laws that congress made that abridge our freedom os speech.

  6. We can be certain that this regime will, in time and for our own protection against terror, decree various language and opinions “combative” as they may reduce the pressure of Washington’s jack-boots on our collective necks. Those who cannot decipher the meaning of “Congress shall make no law…” or “reserved to the States respectively” should not be expected to possess the capacity to differentiate annoyance from opinion, truth from fiction, an email from a website or blog, or any other concept easily grasped by a child of five.

  7. Can you put up a link to the context of the quote in the bill? I live near Washington DC and want to organize a student protest.

  8. Most “conservatives” would gleefully support legislation outlawing the likening of our public servants to “swastika licking pig-fuckers.” As their celestial appointment to the position of morality monitors blinds them to their own hypocrisy, they will remain incapable of the following consideration: are the physical acts of licking a Nazi symbol and actual copulation with swine really so much worse than the cost of lives in this odious war, the international kidnapping of a medical marijuana user who’s only crime is the desire to remain alive, the burning of the instruction booklet for the smallest and most decentralized government in the history of the world or any of the countless other acts of government aggrandizement perpetuated by this whorish parliament composed almost entirely of those who, if any honesty remains in their black hearts, should abruptly answer to porcus futuor?

  9. I read the thing and it says annoy.

    boingboing is probably a dubyalover who is spinning this.

    the gop nazis do not want you to know that they are taking away all your rights. so they spin and lie.

  10. I can say with some authority that BoingBoing is not a “dubyalover” having been a long-time reader. If anything, they are mostly left-libertarian, with Mark Frauenfelder probably being the most libertarian of the bunch (I’m probably wrong, heh).

    They don’t wear their political affiliations on their sleeves though, since it’s not the primary focus of their site.

  11. I might as well identify my pseudonyms so there will be no trouble with Big Brother in the future. These are my anonymous names I use on the internet for all you NSA and DOJ employees reading this:

    Osama bin-Laden, Richard Nixon, Carol Burnett, Bill O’Rielly, Mao Tse Tung, Adolph Hitler, “the Pope”, Midnight Rider, Ted Kennedy, Jane Fonda, Rush Limbaugh, Dubya, Cassius Clay, Marylin Monroe, Kit Carson, Archie Bunker, Superman, Cat Woman, Milton Friedman, Jesus, Popeye, Ronald Reagan, Stephen Gordon, “The Boss”, Josef Stalin, Big Jay, Pete and Repeat, Casper the Ghost, Smokey the Bear, Mickey Mouse, Captain America, Mohammed, Moses, Abraham, “the Holy Ghost”, Stephen VanDyke, Mr. Smith, Lily Tomlin, John Wayne, Abraham Lincoln, Chief of Staff, “Leader of the Free World”, Elvis Presley, Nancy Pelosi, Sean Hannity, and the real me, Julian Van Dyke.

  12. Julian seems to be impersonating me for the purpose of annoying. Who do I file a complaint with?

    /yeah, that’s my dad

  13. I wonder how the feds will catch someone who doesnt disclose their identity, especially those who use various public computers. This law is bullcrap. If anyone else feels “annoyed” by something I post at an internet community, then thats their problem, and not mine. I cannot and will not be responsible for anyone’s feelings because I do not control other people’s feelings. It’s pathetic that Bush makes all the time in the world to create laws that take away our freedoms and liberties, yet he didnt do anything to prevent a little known event called 9-11.

  14. Bush annoys me repeatedly, and the media keep propagating it. Lock ’em up!

    Oh, I forgot. The %@%$%-in-Chief is Above The Law.

  15. Stuart Richards


    He and I have even participated in antiwar demonstrations at the same place, he on one side, me on the other.

    We both agree on the Constitution. I taught him how important the Bill of Rights is, particularly the First and Second Amendments. I believe he has great respect for how important the Second Amendment is for without it, we citizens could not stand a chance of enforcing the First Amendment if it ever comes to that point.

    He does know how to use firearms so there, we now have a really dangerous individual to Big Brother, a nerdy word smith that is an expert marksman.

  16. He does know how to use firearms so there, we now have a really dangerous individual to Big Brother, a nerdy word smith that is an expert marksman.

    Yer pops is given out all your secrets… now the black copters circle closer… ;-)

  17. My understanding from is that this provision only applies to conduct that is not protected by the First Amendment; meaning that it’s essentially toothless as long as there’s some protected speech content.

    However, if the Court will uphold McCain-Feingold, the First Amendment looks flimsier and flimsier.

    Yours truly,