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.
I gave several examples of the kinds of speech the law might turn into a federal felony, but for now let me just give two of them, merged into one:
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. Or I repeatedly blog the same after the vote, because I want the politician to feel ashamed and publicly condemned. I am transmitting in interstate commerce a communication with the intent to coerce or substantially distress 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.
Others criticized the bill as well.
Yesterday, Rep. Sanchez defended her bill, on the Huffington Post. Check out her response, and see what you think. Here's what I think:
1. Sanchez's post nine times mentions the need to protect children (or "young" people). But the proposed law is not in any way limited to speech aimed at a child. It three times mentions the "anonymity" of the Internet. But the proposed law is not in any way limited to anonymous speech.
2. So what about speech that's aimed at adults, including adult Congresswomen and other public figures? Sanchez tells us, "bloggers, emailers, texters, spiteful exes, and those who have blogged against this bill have no fear." "Congress has no interest in censoring speech and it will not do so if it passes this bill. Put simply, this legislation would be used as a tool for a judge and jury to determine whether there is significant evidence to prove that a person 'cyberbullied' another. That is: did they have the required intent, did they use electronic means of communication, and was the communication severe, hostile, and repeated."
But the whole problem is that bloggers, newspaper commentators whose columns are posted online, and others are not protected against the law, precisely because much constitutionally protected speech is said with an intent to coerce or substantially distress, is severe, is hostile, and is repeated.
5. Sanchez reports that her proposal was run by a "variety of experts and law professors." I would like to see even one statement from one such expert that would explain how this law is constitutional. The law is clearly unconstitutionally overbroad. And to the extent that one tries to cure that breadth by reading things into it that don't appear on the text (say, a "public figure"/"private figure" distinction somehow shoehorned into the words "severe" or "hostile"), it is unconstitutionally vague.
But Sanchez's defense of the law as written troubles me even more. If Sanchez did want to limit the law to speech aimed at children, or focus only on individualized communications and not blog posts or other speech aimed at the public at large, or exclude public figures or matters of public concern, she could easily amend the bill.
Yet apparently she doesn't want to impose such limitations. The ban on "severe, repeated, and hostile" speech -- including on "blogs [and] websites" -- that's intended to "coerce, ... harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person," including adults and including politicians, seems to be exactly what she wants.
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?