Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Am I Annoying You?

Hey! A new law technically prohibits posting annoying web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing my true identity. So I am apparently forbidden to continue my anonymous annoying. I must annoy in person and be fully accredited. Who knew?

Seriously. Arlen Specter (R-PA) managed to get this prohibition into a completely unrelated bill (to fund the Dept of Justice). Politicos do this all the time -- get truly bizarre or controversial pieces of legislation passed by burying it deeply in a bill that simply cannot be voted against. As in, "What! You won't vote for paying for food for starving children?" even if a massive allocation of cash directly to coke dealers is buried in the text of the bill. It beomes politically impossible to oppose the bill because it looks like you want children to starve. And since about .0001% of people actually know what is in any given bill, it's a scheme that works. Bury rules about marriage in a defense bill, bury new tax cuts in a law regarding overseas shipping, that sort of thing.

Anyways,rant aside, the issue I have with this bill is that annoy is a pretty vague term and the more I read the content of our legislation, the more dismayed I become at poorly written laws. The original wording of the law is:
(C) makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications; (
Obviously, meant to prevent stalkers and harassers from using a phone to stalk and harass. No problem. I appreciate that there is a law preventing someone from calling me every two minutes to breath heavily at me.

But, the new wording adds this:
`(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)).'.
So, basically, the idea was to prevent them from sending threatening emails or text messages, or using net-phones, as well. That's ok, as far as it goes. Obviously, the intent is to support law enforcement by making it easier to prosecute stalkers. It's the "off label" use of this sort of law that may become an issue.

Threaten and abuse are clear. Maybe even harass, since we have loads of documents for that. But annoy? Can someone actually define 'annoying' as regards a webpage, which is often put up with the intent to be annoying or edgy or express a contrary position...does this cover spam messages? I certainly find those annoying, or is this a way to get rid of all the xxxsucks.com pages that criticize things? Are poliltical discussions considered annoying? How about pictures of your cat? Can over-verbose bloggers be targeted? It makes me wonder if any of our legislators are familiar with what content is actually available on the internet, if they even really understand how it all works.


1 comment:

The Tiger said...

Boy, you are annoying for pointing out that minor annoyance! But for a modest fee, I'll over look it.

Thanks -- Your Gov'mint