CINCINNATI (TDB) -- California intellectual property lawyer Eric J. Sinrod recently analyzed the reauthorized U.S. Violence Against Women Act and found language that could damp down some of the feisty nature of Internet exchanges. Sinrod said he located wording that makes it a crime punishable by jail to "annoy" someone. He worried that legal tools could smoke out the people behind pointed anonymous commentary, thus harming free speech. Sinrod's Findlaw.com column is HERE.
These four-paragraphs register the depth of his worry:
"A small but important provision buried deep in the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, H.R. 3402, titled "Preventing Cyberstalking" and numbered as Section 113, which was just signed into law, now brings the reach of Section 223(a)(1)(C), quoted above, home to the Internet.
"Specifically, Section 113(a)(3) provides that Section 223(a)(1)(C) applies to "any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet." Hello!
"What does this mean? The Communications Act provides for fines and imprisonment of up to two years for violations. Thus, taken to a logical extreme conclusion, it is possible that a person who makes a Web posting or who sends an email that is intended simply to "annoy" someone else while not disclosing his or her true identity, could be subject to fines and jail time.
"So much for freedom of speech - so much for appropriate Internet anonymity. There is no requirement of harm to trigger the impact of this new law, and the annoyance standard raises a number of concerns."
There is more detail about Sinrod HERE.