98.5% of blog comments now illegal

News.com reports that it is now illegal to anonymous annoy people online:

Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime.

It’s no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.

In other words, it’s OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.

This ridiculous prohibition, which would likely imperil much of Usenet, is buried in the so-called Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.

The way we’re headed — from the PC left and the religious right — it surely will soon be a crime to offend, too.

: See much discussing and updating and debating in the comments about the true import of this. I still find the use of the word “annoy” troubling and, well, annoying. But mainly, I found writing that headline amusing.

  • http://www.filmbuffonline.com Rich Drees

    Would someone please buy Bush a roll of toliet paper so he can stop using the Bill of Rights?

  • angrytrousers

    Could this also be used to battle spammers? Although it’s a complete trampling of the first amendment, it’d be interesting to see how this is used.

    By the way, I’m a former Crooklynite who moved up to Canadia, where you can say whatever you want as long as it’s not hate speech. Which is why everyone hates the frogs.

    Bababooey to y’all!

  • http://oodja.blogspot.com Jersey Exile

    So much for Silence Dogood…

  • http://www.punditron.com/ John Miller

    Great! Our freedoms are being erroded more and more every day. The U.S. government has been putting all of its efforts into clamping down on dissent in this country. Soon, all we’ll be allowed to do is bow down to our President and swear our allegiance to him.

  • http://www.kitkast.com Kitka

    Arrest me; this isn’t my real name…

  • Bill Henry

    Just what are defined as “annoying Web messages”? Who defines “annoying”?

  • http://www.brunoandtheprofessor.com frankbruno

    I don’t know enough to comment on this directly, but I’ll relate a perhaps useful anecdote: I had a colleague (a computer programmer) who was harassed online by a guy he knew distantly through a social network. Threatening emails, IM, etc. But when my colleague went to the cops, they couldn’t do anything because email is not permissible as evidence. The police were basically like, “come back to us when he picks up the phone.”

    Which, of course, he didn’t. Just more threatening emails.

    FWIW. Not sure if this relates directly, though.

  • tigh

    I hear voices Jeff

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  • wag

    Arlen Specter slipped this into the bill.

    More “small government” policies from the Republicans, praise Jeebus!

  • http://moveleft.com Eric Jaffa

    This is from Republican Arlen Specter.

    It’s neither the “PC left” nor the “religious right,” just a regular Republican politician.

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  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    [Forwarded – the material below is by Daniel Solove, “an associate
    professor of law at the George Washington University Law School.”]


    Declan’s article is misleading. The provision extends a telephone harassment law to apply to email. Declan describes the provision as applying whenever a person “annoys” another: “A new federal law states that when you annoy someone on the Internet, you must disclose your identity.”

    But that’s not what the law says. Instead it provides:

    “Whoever…utilizes 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… without
    disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten,
    or harass any person…who receives the communications…shall be
    fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or

    Note that “annoy” is part of the intent element of the statute — it requires the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass. Far from an anti-anonymity provision that applies whenever a person annoys another, it is merely a prohibition on harassment. Declan writes: “In other words, it’s OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name.” I don’t see any basis for the law to apply in this instance.

  • http://www.tonypierce.com/blog/bloggy.htm tony

    Does this President know anything about the Constitution? Anything at all?

  • http://moveleft.com Eric Jaffa

    Seth Finkelstein –

    If this were jus a harrassment law, they could have left out the word “annoy.”

    They didn’t.

    This is a rotten law which should be repealed.

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  • http://farrightwing.blogspot.com Myron

    Data from U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration @ http://www.msha.gov

    United States mining fatalities in the last four years of the Clinton administration and the first four years of Bush’s administration.

    year 2004 – 54 fatalities
    2003 – 56
    2002 – 67
    2001 – 72
    Bush’s administration
    2000 – 85
    1999 – 90
    1998 – 87
    1997 – 91
    Clinton’s administration

    Liberals are trying to blame the Bush administration for the deaths of the 12 coal miners in West Virginia because they say Pres. Bush relax safety regulations but look at the numbers. Despite the fact that coal production is up in the mining industry now over 4 years ago (result of the boom in the energy sector) less people are dying.

    I guess less regulation equal less deaths in mines.

  • Susan Easley

    Only in the Bush Fascist America would such a law even be mentioned !

    And you thought Republicans = less Goverment !

    Spying on everday working class Americans is Fascism 100 % .

    What can you do for America and Democracy ? You can vote OUT every last one of these GOP ( Group of Parasites ) this year and forever ~

    We can never trust Republicans again ! NEVER !

    I do not always agree with Democrats but they are the lesser of the two evil –

    Dissent is patriotic ******************************

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  • Tom Maguire

    Well, the rest of you can kiss my free speech!

    P.S. – Lots of you are annoying me, actually. Seek counsel.

  • rastajenk

    If this ain’t the walking, talking definition of red meat for the partisans, but, sorry to say, it’s not being reported accurately. This amendment only redefines “telecommunications device” to include internet-based phone technologies with regard to harassment and stalking of female victims of violence, which is already defined and prohibited in a sensible manner. The section of the Act being amended reads:

    h) Definitions
    For purposes of this section—
    (1) The use of the term “telecommunications device” in this section—
    (A) shall not impose new obligations on broadcasting station licensees and cable operators covered by obscenity and indecency provisions elsewhere in this chapter; and
    (B) does not include an interactive computer service.

    So, no, it’s not some insidious, creeping limitation on our liberties, unless you think the right to make harassing phone calls is a basic freedom. Maybe we should just chuck the whole Violence Against Women Act, eh?

  • http://www.eventsetter.com Friday Night

    I find this “annoy” law to be annoying. Talk about a complete waste of time. I have to agree with the response by Susan Easley, above.

  • http://moveleft.com Eric Jaffa


    It says “telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet.”

    It doesn’t say it has to be telecommunications.

  • http://www.theperfectworld.us Cal

    No, but it does say that it excludes interactive computer services. I’m reasonably sure this is all about VOIP, which is an information service, not telecommunication service. I blogged more about it here.

    And Jeff, how come you didn’t check this out before you pretty much asserted it as fact–or at least assumed it was true?

  • http://btwohig.wordpress.com Brad Twohig

    f**k that…er…has the FCC already gotten to me. Its like that freaky scene out of the Matrix where Neo doesn’t have a mouth any more…wait a second. FUCK THAT!

  • rastajenk

    This horse has probably already left the barn and will be included in the left’s mythological list of freedom infringements. Too bad they never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

  • http://ruthcalvo ruth

    This is my real name, therefore I may annoy all I like.

    What this law really is, is unenforceable, and therefore more fake law for the purpose of election propwash. Proving intent is the major obstacle in proving bribery … and may keep certain lawmakers out of jail.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Note the legislative summary here: http://www.gop.gov/Committeecentral/bills/hr3402.asp

    “To strengthen stalking prosecution tools, this section expands the definition of a telecommunications device to include any device or software that uses the Internet and possible Internet technologies such as voice over internet services. This amendment will allow federal prosecutors more discretion in charging stalking cases that occur entirely over the internet.”

    Folks, let’s step back a moment. Which makes more sense?

    1) There was minor extension to current law, updating it from telephone to include voice over Internet.

    2) “President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.

    Is there anything more alarmist, more sensation-mongering, that should scream: FACT CHECK THIS! GET SOME VERIFICATION! DON’T TAKE IT AT FACE VALUE!

    Instead, it’s too often uncritically echoed endlessly, even in spite of being from a source who is *known* to basically make-up stories like this as part of his stock-in-trade (e.g. the infamous Al Gore “invented Internet” smear).

    It’s a shameless stoking of fear and paranoia.

  • rastajenk

    And it’s working.

  • http://www.nyu.edu/classes/siva/ Ann Bartow
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  • http://tomwatson.typepad.com Tom Watson

    Personally, I’d make over-use of the word “kerfuffle” a Federal crime.

  • John Thacker

    The use of “annoy” is troubling. However, that part is from the original Communications Act of 1934. It’s long been inoperative in caselaw– only cases of threats and harassment which are not protected First Amendment speech can be affected. Congress has never gone back and edited the original clause, which is annoying, but this amendment didn’t touch it at all.

  • Glyn

    No-one has the “right” not to be offended. Trouble is, at least here in Britain, is that people increasingly feel that they do.

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  • Annonymous DICK

    You American sucks, or better you are sat at a hiden dick which annoys a lot your president. You believe that misleading or not comprehension will provide any security. You have to change your reason and stop trying to overcome anyother person with your lifestile. Regards.

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  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    More debunking, including discussion of “annoy”

    [Orin Kerr, January 10, 2006 at 1:12am]
    A Skeptical Look at “Create an E-annoyance, Go to Jail”:

    “Declan McCullagh has penned a column that is custom-designed to race around the blogosphere. …

    This is just the perfect blogosphere story, isn’t it? It combines threats to bloggers with government incompetence and Big Brother, all wrapped up and tied togther with a little bow. Unsurprisingly, a lot of bloggers are taking the bait.

    Skeptical readers will be shocked, shocked to know that the truth is quite different. …”

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  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Seth is right about McCullough, he’s Urban Legend Central, just recently pushing that crazy story about the Mao’s Little Red Book on his Politech list. The man’s either a complete idiot or utterly deranged.

  • Gaius Arbo

    Frankly, I spent a lot of time fact checking this one yesterday. McCullagh is NOT accurate. Not even close. I see others have already linked Volokh, so I won’t bother.

    I heard of this on another site and immediately began fact checking – had pretty well resolved it in under an hour, but it took about 2-3 hours real time (only about 40 minutes actual working time) to finalize that this was bogus. I’m not even a lawyer, either. CNet needs to retract or correct this.

    Mr. Jarvis, could you amend your story so it doesn’t add fuel to foolish?

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  • http://www.mythusmageopines.com/mt Alan Kellogg

    For your amusement, Am I Annoying You Yet? A light hearted look at the kerfuffle surrounding the new ennoyance law,

    Yes, The Volokh Conspiracy gets mentioned.

    BTW, I’ve met people online who get annoyed when you ask that they think. Some people aint happy ‘less they have something to be annoyed about.

  • Anonymous

    Ummmmm screw Bush and his terrorist-fearing psychoses. Fighting a war in Afghanistan is one thing, waging war against yourself and your people is stupid. Why aren’t there any competent leaders like King Solomon and Lorenzo de’ Medici anymore? Even Nixon looks good compared to this monkey.

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  • David

    Everyone is getting so worked up over this ammended law that it is truly funny!

    Nothing has changed except the new law “expands the definition of a telecommunications device to include any device or software that uses the Internet and possible Internet technologies such as voice over internet services. This amendment will allow federal prosecutors more discretion in charging stalking cases that occur entirely over the internet.”

    If you, your wife or your kids were threatened over the Internet, you would want a means by which to stop it. Anything short of that, is just annoying and no one will be bothered. Before this law was expanded to cover the Internet, did you ever hear of anyone having their wife arrested for an annoying phone conversation? So, don’t stress!

    No one was upset until Declan McCullough cast his spin on it. Consider the source and ignore him.

  • Robert

    98.5%? You seem to be assuming that 100% of blogs are in the USA?

  • http://n/a louis brown

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    A republican known as Carl Rove
    Has a darkly brown stain on his nose
    He got it I hear
    From thinking the rear
    Of his oleTexas boss was a rose

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  • Step

    There should be a law stating that the only people allowed to annoy others are public relations people.

  • http://nexus.com Nexus

    Everyone is getting so worked up over this ammended law that it is truly funny!

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  • http://www.normism.org picture of zoroastrianism

    98.5%??? Where exactly did you get that figure from Jeff? Anyhow, I think the law is rediculous. We are going too far and creating too much clutter and burden in what people should be paying attention to. Yet on the other hand some individual might use a platform to sound an opinion about a person or a group of people and there might be a lack of access to that platform for the purpose of defending one’s good name. Even if there is access to the same platform you may miss the audience that was at the receiving end of the negative campaign. Why are people so rude? Why can’t we just accept the moto that we should all be as good to each other as humanly possible. And then, there won’t be any need for laws of such kind.


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    98.5%? You seem to be assuming that 100% of blogs are in the USA?

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