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Anonymous Internet annoyance illegal?


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Anonymous Internet annoyance illegal? Yes and no.

1/10/2006 9:00:34 PM, by Ken "Caesar" Fisher

The 'net is alive with buzz about a new bill signed into law by President Bush that could see certain forms of harassment online turned into criminal behaviors. The bill, dubbed the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, addresses a number of major issues, but online forms of harassment are addressed in a tiny section of the bill that seeks to address "cyberstalking."

So far as I can tell, the story originated with this report at News.com by Declan McCullagh, who commonly covers the intersecting points of technology and law and/or politics. The story opens with some remarkable claims:

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.

As you would expect, eyebrows across the country were raised at the prospect of good old fashioned Internet trolling and flaming becoming criminal (at least in the US), with a maximum penalty being two years in jail. Chances are, if you've read about this new law, you've read about how it criminalizes harassment online done under a false or anonymous identity. You've probably also read that this will make blogging, forum posting, and using USENET (among other things) far more dangerous because it would now be "illegal to annoy" someone, and whatnot.

The problem is, I believe that McCullagh has rushed to judgment somewhat, which is something I'm reticent to say because I rarely have qualms with his work. But before we get into that, let's look at the law in question, and address some of the words and their meaning. First, the changes (I've put new additions in bold):

(h) Definitions

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