That's what a House of Representatives bill, proposed by Rep. Linda T. Sanchez and 14 others, would do. Here's the relevant text:
Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both....
["Communication"] means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user's choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; ...
["Electronic means"] means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.
1. I try to coerce a politician into voting a particular way, by repeatedly blogging (using a hostile tone) about what a hypocrite / campaign promise breaker / fool / etc. he would be if he voted the other way. I am transmitting in interstate commerce a communication with the intent to coerce using electronic means (a blog) "to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior" -- unless, of course, my statements aren't seen as "severe," a term that is entirely undefined and unclear. Result: I am a felon, unless somehow my "behavior" isn't "severe."
2. A newspaper reporter or editorialist tries to do the same, in columns that are posted on the newspaper's Web site. Result: Felony, unless somehow my "behavior" isn't severe.
3. The politician votes the wrong way. I think that's an evil, tyrannical vote, so I repeatedly and harshly condemn the politician on my blog, hoping that he'll get very upset (and rightly so, since I think he deserves to feel ashamed of himself, and loathed by others). I am transmitting a communication with the the intent to cause substantial emotional distress, using electronic means (a blog) "to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior." (I might also be said to be intending to "harass" -- who knows, given how vague the term is? -- but the result is the same even if we set that aside.) Result: I am a felon, subject to the usual utter uncertainty about what "severe" means.
4. A company delivers me shoddy goods, and refuses to refund my money. I e-mail it several times, threatening to sue if they don't give me a refund, and I use "hostile" language. I am transmitting a communication with the intent to coerce, using electronic means "to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior." Result: I am a felon, if my behavior is "severe."
5. Several people use blogs or Web-based newspaper articles to organize a boycott of a company, hoping to get it to change some policy they disapprove of. They are transmitting communications with the intent to coerce, using electronic means "to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior." Result: Those people are a felon. (Isn't threatening a company with possible massive losses "severe"? But again, who knows?)
6. John cheats on Mary. Mary wants John to feel like the scumbag that he is, so she sends him two hostile messages telling him how much he's hurt her, how much she now hates him, and how bad he should feel. She doesn't threaten him with violence (there are separate laws barring that, and this law would apply even in the absence of a threat). She is transmitting communications with the intent to cause substantial emotional distress, using electronic means "to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior." Result: Mary is a felon, again if her behavior is "severe."
The examples could be multiplied pretty much indefinitely. The law, if enacted, would clearly be facially overbroad (and probably unconstitutionally vague), and would thus be struck down on its face under the First Amendment. But beyond that, surely even the law's supporters don't really want to cover all this speech.
What are Rep. Linda Sanchez and the others thinking here? Are they just taking the view that "criminalize it all, let the prosecutors sort it out"? Even if that's so, won't their work amount to nothing, if the law is struck down as facially overbroad -- as I'm pretty certain it would be? Or are they just trying to score political points here with their constituents, with little regard to whether the law will actually do any good? I try to focus my posts mostly on what people do, not on their motives, but here the drafting is so shoddy that I just wonder why this happened.
Related Posts (on one page):
- "Reasonable Regulation of Speech":
- Rep. Linda Sanchez Defends Proposed Outlawing of Using Blogs, the Web, Etc. To Cause Substantial Emotional Distress Through "Severe, Repeated, and Hostile" Speech:
- Federal Felony To Use Blogs, the Web, Etc. To Cause Substantial Emotional Distress Through "Severe, Repeated, and Hostile" Speech?