Arizona Internet Trolling Bill H.B. 2549 Causes Privacy Uproar, Lawmakers Making Changes

A controversial Internet trolling bill passed by Arizona legislature last week has been reportedly stopped, according to Phoenix New Times.

Arizona’s House Bill 2549 was recently introduced as an update to the state’s telephone harassment law. This new bill would have made it a crime to harass, offend or annoy others on the Internet via electronic devices like computers, tablets, and smartphones.

H.B. 2549 quickly grabbed a lot of negative attention, mainly because the bill was not limited to one-on-one communications; rather, it covered a broad part of the internet, such as comments on websites and cartoons. If the state found any writing or cartoons offensive, those responsible would be thrown in jail. According to Gizmodo, trolling could throw someone in jail for 25 years.

The following is a paragraph from H.B. 2549:

It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous electronic or digital communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the communications were received.
The Senate approved H.B. 2549 by 30-0 last week, but a number of groups opposed to the bill have since come forward to complain. For instance, Media Coalition, which is a trade association that protects the First Amendment rights of content industries, has been sending letters to the Senate Rules Committee urging Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill.

“Government may criminalize speech that rises to the level of harassment and many states have laws that do so, but this legislation takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on web sites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication,” said Media Coalition’s letter. “H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person.

“Speech protected by the First Amendment is often intended to offend, annoy or scare but could be prosecuted under this law.”

H.B. 2549 never quite made it to the governor, according to Phoenix New Times. Also, the bill was amended before it passed the Senate and returned to the House, and has been reportedly shot down.

Representative Ted Vogt, one of the bill’s sponsors, has reportedly stopped the bill from progressing forward until all concerns are dealth with. State Representative Vic Williams said the bill never intended to put Internet trolls in jail, but was merely an amendment to an old statute to include new digital means of communication. It was mainly introduced to prevent harassment and stalking on the Internet.

State legislators haven’t given up on the bill entirely, though. They’re just making changes and consulting the attorney general’s office to make sure the bill doesn’t stir the public and privacy groups once again.

Privacy has become a hot topic lately with new threats coming about, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hacking into gamers’ consoles for information on pedophiles and terrorists. Also, last week, an Indiana high school student was expelled from school for posting a tweet that contained foul language on Twitter. The school, which monitors students’ social networking sites, said the student posted it at school while the student argued otherwise.

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