Last week, my colleague Mark posted about a bill in Arizona that would criminalize any electronic communication or posting intended to be annoying, offensive, or obscene. That seems to cover, oh I don’t know, most of the Internet?
For example, as Eugene Volokh pointed out, pretty much every irritating blog commenter could be thrown in jail:
So, under the statute, posting a comment to a newspaper article — or a blog — saying that the article or post author is “fucking out of line” would be a crime: It’s said with intent to offend, it uses an electronic or digital device, and it uses what likely will be seen as profane language (see, e.g., City of Columbia Falls v. Bennett (Mont. 1991)). Likewise if a blog poster were to post the same in response to a commenter’s comment. Likewise if someone posts something in response to an e-mail on an e-mail-based discussion list, or in a chatroom, or wherever else.
Naturally, there was a not-small amount of uproar over the bill’s extreme, and likely unconstitutionally broad, phrasing. The bill was passed by the Arizona legislature a week ago, and the lawmakers have apparently been at least a little annoyed and irritated by the response because they’re now scrambling to make some amendments.
Arizona State Rep. Ted Vogt (@VogtForArizona) put the bill on time-out so the concerns of the public could be addressed and, hopefully, incorporated. Vogt has indicated that the revised version would more precisely state that it is intended to stop an individual from specifically targeting and harassing another individual online. Rep. Vic Williams (@VicWilliams) also made extensive comments to the media about the good intentions of the legislature in passing the bill, and the goals they hope to still accomplish.