The Hard Truth

Journal of Political News & Constitutionalism

Hostile bloggers facing fines, jail?

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Posted: May 06, 2009
10:39 pm Eastern

By Bob Unruh
© 2009 WorldNetDaily

1ST AMENDMENT ON TRIAL

Proposal ‘comes close to making it federal offense to log onto Internet’



Jail cell

A new proposal in Congress is threatening fines and jail time for what it calls “cyberbullying” – communications that include e-mails and text messages that “cause substantial emotional distress.”

The vague generalities are included in H.R. 1966 by California Democrat Linda Sanchez and about a dozen co-sponsors.

But it already is being condemned as unconstitutional, unrealistic and probably ineffectual.

At Wired.com, in a report labeled “Threat Level,” writer David Kravets criticized the plan to demand “up to two years in prison for those whose electronic speech is meant to ‘coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress.'”

“Instead of prison, perhaps we should say gulag,” he wrote.

(Story continues below)

Such limits never would pass First Amendment muster, “unless the U.S. Constitution was altered without us knowing,” he wrote. “So Sanchez, and the 14 other lawmakers who signed on to the proposal are grandstanding to show the public they care about children and are opposed to cyberbullying.”

The plan is labeled the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, after the 13-year-old Meier, whose suicide last year reportedly was prompted by a woman who utilized the MySpace social networking site to send the teen critical messages.

Speak out now against limits on your speech!

The defendant in the case, Lori Drew, was accused under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

“Sanchez’s bill goes way beyond cyberbullying and comes close to making it a federal offense to log onto the Internet or use the telephone,” Kravets wrote. “The methods of communication where hostile speech is banned include e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones and text messages.”

“We can’t say what we think of Sanchez’s proposal,” he said. “Doing so would clearly get us two years in solitary confinement.”

Wrote a contributor to the Wired forum page, “If passed, this legislation could be easily abused with the effect of criminalizing all criticism. You probably [couldn’t] even criticize the legislation itself because it would cause Sen. Sanchez emotional distress or possibly be considered a form of intimidation.”

The bill, which has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, states, “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.”

It states: “Cyberbullying can cause psychological harm, including depression; negatively impact academic performance, safety, and the well-being of children in school; force children to change schools; and in some cases lead to extreme violent behavior, including murder and suicide.”

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