That endless banter by anonymous commenters on your favorite Internet forum has long been trivial -- at least to you. In Arizona, it could soon be downright criminal.
Arizona House Bill 2549, which would make it unlawful for anyone to post messages "with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend," passed both the House and Senate in nearly unanimous votes last week. The bill is reportedly being tinkered with by legislators before being passed to Gov. Jan Brewer.
The legislation, which has its roots in an antiquated anti-stalking law that targeted phone pranksters and telemarketers, has drawn the ire of free speech advocates who say the legislation is an affront to First Amendment rights.
Bill co-author Chad Campbell told the Arizona Republic this week that legislators hear the critics loud and clear and are addressing their concerns -- but don't think the bill is dead.
“The intent of this bill was to go after stalkers, basically, and people who are making one-on-one conversations that are abusive or threatening in some matter," he said in a video posted on the newspaper's website. "There was no intention to trample on the First Amendment. We still believe that it wouldn’t do so, that we as a state legislature can't override the First Amendment. But let me just say if there are some concerns, we have time to fix it and we’re more than willing to fix it."
Because of the way the law was written, critics say "fixing" it would require trashing the whole bill.
The group Media Coalition sent a letter to Brewer lambasting the bill for dealing an Orwellian blow to free speech, saying the bill “would update the state's telephone harassment law to apply to the Internet and other electronic communications. It would make it a crime to communicate via electronic means speech that is intended to 'annoy,' 'offend,' 'harass' or 'terrify,' as well as certain sexual speech. However, because the bill is not limited to one-to-one communications, H.B. 2549 would apply to the Internet as a whole, thus criminalizing all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying.”
The hacktivist Twitter account YourAnonNews was sending “ButtHurt Report Forms” -- a pseudo-incident report meant to mock people who are easily offended by what they see online -- to Brewer and state lawmakers, reported Russia Today.
Arizona has become a hotbed of constitutional infighting after the passage of a sweeping anti-immigration law in 2010 that drew national attention. In January, the governor was photographed giving President Obama the finger-wag. A petition opposing de-funding Planned Parenthood in the state has more than 5,000 signatures on Signon.org.
Do you think the bill is fair or does it go against your First Amendment rights? Let us know!