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Crank Blogging, Like Phone Calling, Now Illegal 666

On Thursday, President Bush signed into law a must-pass DoJ appropriations bill which contained a little gotcha for the internet. For decades, making anonymous abusive phone calls has been a federal crime, good for up to two years behind bars -- and the term "abusive" has included threats, harassment, and the much weaker "intent to annoy." Now, that telecommunications law has been extended to include the Internet, so when you post an anonymous troll to wind up your least-favorite blogger, you may break the law. This is silly: the law needs to start taking into account the qualitative differences between things like telephones, email inboxes, blogs, and IM accounts. A 3 AM phone call is different from a post to calling me a jerk. I don't need federal protection from that Night Elf who keeps /chickening my Orc.
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Crank Blogging, Like Phone Calling, Now Illegal

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  • So wait... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@AAAtpno ... inus threevowels> on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:02PM (#14428334) Homepage
    ...does that mean when you get a -1 Flamebait on slashdot, the authorities are dispatched?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:09PM (#14428415)

    This is silly: the law needs to start taking into account the qualitative differences between things like telephones, email inboxes, blogs, and IM accounts. A 3 AM phone call is different from a post to calling me a jerk.

    The law doesn't spell out everything. It's up to judges and juries to decide what qualifies as harrassment. Would they decide repeated 3AM calls is harrassment? Probably. Would they decide somebody calling you a jerk is harrassment? Probably not. But it's something that has to be decided on a case-by-case basis, not something that can be spelled out explicitly by law ahead of time.

    I don't need federal protection from that Night Elf who keeps /chickening my Orc.

    No, but if you were a small-time blogger just scraping by on ad revenue, you might need protection from people making your comment system utterly useless with continued abuse. If Slashdot didn't have full-time staff to program things like the moderation system, the comments would be useless. And believe me, people aren't coming to Slashdot for the crappy game reviews, years-old news and dupes.

  • I ave fellt personally harrased and annoyed by many statements made by politicians. Can I press charges? How can this new law not apply to any form of speech?
  • intent of the medium (Score:5, Interesting)

    by beforewisdom ( 729725 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:10PM (#14428444)
    The intent of the medium should be considered in these kind of laws.

    Blogs are public with an implicit invitation ( unless comments are shut off ) by the owner to contact the owner to share your views.

    That is not the same with a phone.
  • The Road to Hell... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <wgrother@oEINSTE ... minus physicist> on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:20PM (#14428541) Journal paved with Congressional legislation. Who are they kidding? Just how enforceable is this going to be? Are the federal courts (which are already overburdened with real criminal cases) now to be swamped with case of "he called me a fsck-head on Slashdot?" The intent is good, allowing people to avoid harrassment but the execution is lousy. I can't see this standing up to the inevitable challenge by the ACLU in front of the Supreme Court.
  • Easily Handled (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:45PM (#14428774) Homepage
    This is easy to take care of.

    Anytime someone posts something bad about you, immediately call the police with full intent to press charges. After we waste enough of the government's time, it will either do the smart thing and revise the law, or the stupid thing and make it a felony.

    Now personally I don't like it when people talk shit about me on my own blog, but I have the tools to remove their remarks thanks to the blog site. I surely don't need a law to protect me. The only way I could see it being useful is if some corporation decided they didn't like me and would engage in a smear campaign against my name on the websites I frequent. Then I would leverage this law (or libel..).
  • Of course not... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MountainLogic ( 92466 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:46PM (#14428786) Homepage
    But just because some local yokel slides in a dumb amendment does not mean we should all jump off a cliff. Yes, we all know how great big business is. Tried calling Microsoft, Dell or T-Mobile support lately with even a simple question? I called the IRS a few days ago with a very complex and detailed question. I got a very detailed and thoughtful response within 24 hours that would have taken weeks from a tax attorney and cost me thousands. If US business could provide the level of service of the IRS our economy would rock. Every time I move it is the businesses that can't seem to get even a change of address right, but I've never had even the local utility district get it wrong. Sure, the current republican clowns in DC are control freaks, sack them and get back to a team that want to provide good services.
  • Attaching a rider (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:50PM (#14428831) Homepage Journal
    This is a classic tactic, called "attaching a rider". It's also the legal equivalent of asking, "have you stopped beating your wife?"

    John Kerry's famous "I voted for it before I voted against it" referred to something like this. What he meant was, "I voted for the weapons acquisition bill, but when it brought up again with a whole bunch of stupid riders attached to it I voted against it." Either way, it meant that his enemies could hit him for voting for it, or for voting against it, or for being flip-floppy. How's that for win-win-win?

    He sure didn't help by compounding the insult by injuring himself with a silly phrasing, but it's a sign that politicians have very little faith in their constituents by being unwilling to put out the longer and more complicated version. And, given how effectively Kerry's statement was used against him, their lack of faith seems to be entirely justified.

    Personally, I favor a parliamentary procedure called "splitting the motion", where a member can move to consider part of a bill separately from the rest. That way when a bill like this comes up a member can say, "I think we should consider the 'jail you for flaming' part of the budget bill separately from the actual frickin' budget," and let that part stand on its own if the motion passes.

    But it would be impossible to convince Congress to change its rules to allow that, because the all-or-nothing nature of a bill is what lets people say, "I'll vote for your self-serving amendment if you'll vote for mine." All of those deals would fall apart of those two Congressmen couldn't force the rest of Congress to go along with them once they got a sufficiently large coalition to pass the amendment.

    So basically, get used to it. Not a bill goes by without scores of these riders. Sometimes they're useful, like when John McCain threatened to attach a "no torture" rider to every bill until it passed. It's just the way Congress works, and enjoy your tour of the sausage factory.
  • by Grue_Food ( 442478 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:56PM (#14428889) Homepage
    IMHO this could have good purposes, and here is why I say that.
    I host a blog for my ex-brother in-law (brother of ex-wife). It's just a basic blog he uses to post pictures of fish he's caught. A week before Christmas he sent a greeting card to his son, whom his ex has not permitted him access to in over two (2) years, not even a phone call gets through. Just a day before Christmas he begins getting harrassing comments posted on his site. Not just one or two, like around 250, one after the other, mostly defametory in nature. He calls me for help and I spend some time looking up IPs and gathering ammo for him to take to a lawyer. This bill could actually help him present a valid case.
  • Re:sneaky sneaky (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrWa ( 144753 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:10PM (#14429017) Homepage
    While I agree with the opinion that these amendments completely unrelated the main bill are bad, Congress can (and had) not pass the bill if the amendment is not agreeable. For example: the last Defense Appropriations Bill was filibustered and defeated in the Senate because an amendment to allow oil exploration of the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve had been attached by Sen. Ted Stevens from Alaska.

    Usually, making these types of amendments is a way for Congresspeople to vote for an item without directly supporting it - all part of the compromise and negotiations required to anything done in Washington. Makes you wish they were even less efficient up there! The less they get done, the better off we all are it seems.

  • Re: Privatisation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by L0k11 ( 617726 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:27PM (#14429195) Homepage Journal
    Also, private companies will be cheaper that government.

    I really have to go ahead an rant on that point. I fail to see that EVER being the case. Over the last decade or so I have watched everything get privatised/deregulated in Australia.

    The bank got sold... bank fees went up. (the latest is a 50 cent fee for using internet banking)

    The gas company got sold... the price of gas doubled.

    The Airline got sold, prices went up AND the Australians were fired because jobs went overseas.

    The milk companies got deregulated.... the price of milk quadripled.

    Do none of you remember what Enron did to California? "If we trade electricity it will be cheaper for everyone" What a load of shit.

  • For every -1 Flamebait that appears on Slashdot we should all file a federal lawsuit that must be investigated and tried. Sometimes you just have to prove that something is too stupid to be in the rule book. We'll see how long the justice system can withsatnd a very stupid law that can be invoked by the average citizen. Any takers on a template complaint form to save lawyer fees? :D

    And just for clarification, I'm all for protection agains harrassment, but a law against making an anonymous message that annoys someone is ridiculous.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:55PM (#14429457) Journal
    If you read the article it is only if you hide your identity. It is an intresting move. It could be seen as part of the move to a trusted internet.

    Currently the internet is not trusted. I don't really know who you are and you don't know who I am and we can pester each other without really being able to do anything about it.

    Total open internet doesn't work. That is clear from slashdot alone else why would we have moderation and bans? If you ever run a website you will quickly learn that you will need to secure your site from many attacks.

    There is something about being anonymous that can bring out the worst in people and with the internet it doesn't matter how small a group it is, they still number in the millions because of the global reach. Or put another way I don't need to worry about some kid from Japan gatecrashing my Dutch LUG. That same kid however can easily try attacking the website and I can't grab him by the throath and show what happens to little punks.

    So lets move to a totally un-anonymous internet where who you are is known. Post a troll on slashdot and be assured someone from your hometown will come by and teach you a lesson.

    Nice idea no? No. Because for all the trolls and flamers and idiots and time wasters there are also those people who contribute stuff they can get in trouble for but we would really like to know. Oh they ain't many, every slashdot story has trolls versus only a handfull that have inside information BUT some people find that the trolls are worth it.

    And yet should that mean anyone can do anything they want and not have to fear being punished for it? Saying that people should be able to harras, threathen or even annoy while hiding behind anonymity is al very good until you are at the receiving end.

    I happen to know one of the people who claims to be one of the gnaa members. Yes he is as sad in real live as well but that is not the real funny thing. He sometimes gets "attacked" himself and then bitterly complains about how people are costing him bandwidth from a DOS (yeah a DOS not even a DDOS). A lot of people are for freedom but only if it is them being free, the moment someone else uses freedom against them it is time to get the law involved.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    This says you are free to speak. Strictly speaking it does not say you do not have to face consequences of what you say. (Shouting fire in a crowded theather example) It certainly does not say you have the right do speak anonymous. The amendment was clearly not written by lawyers. Not good ones anyway.

    Of course it also was written a long time ago when if you wanted to say something you had to either own a press or stand up in front of your audience. The tech to speak from another continent without ever having to show yourselve was unheard perhaps even undreamed of.

    This law has a lot of nasty possibilities but as someone who has had to clean to many websites after a visit by a person with the intent to annoy I am torn in two. The majority of me knows this is going to lead to trouble and the other part of me has a list of IP's in his firewall that he would loved to have traced by the feds and their users put in a wooden chair with leather straps and a link to another kind of net.

    Should at least make for some intresting posts when someone convinces an annoying kid they are about to be arrested for talking in caps.

  • Maybe this is needed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by finkster ( 937210 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @03:37PM (#14429831) Homepage
    Perhaps this is the legal vehicle to aid in the prosecution of electronic harassment. A growing trend with middle and high school kids is to create blogs/website/emails to harass fellow students.

    I have seen some very vicious blog sites devoted to the defamation of a fellow student. Without the legal ammo, law enforcement has their hands tied as to the extent they can investigate and remove the content.

    With the web, you can anonymously bully fellow students from the comforts of your own bedroom.

    We need to weigh your right to flame someone with the rights of people to be protected from harassment.

    What amazes me, more than anything, is that some people seem to feel the need to draw a line between the real world and the Internet. For example, are on-line auctions THAT different from real-life auctions? How about shopping carts?
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Monday January 09, 2006 @03:43PM (#14429893) Homepage Journal

    There is no right to protecting your phone line from phone calls -- you don't need to have a phone line.

    Actually, you're completely wrong here. First of all, there is a right to protecting your phone line from repeated, unwanted calls. It has existed for many years and it's filed under "harassment". Second of all, you do need a phone line, and this is reflected in law. Along with certain other "amenities" (in your view, most likely) every rental must come with the equipment to install a phone line and the phone company must provide you with a phone line unless you owe them money. This is also why we have "universal lifeline" phone service for those who cannot afford to pay full price for a phone.

    Given that you cannot do many kinds of business without a phone, it is as much a necessity in our country as a car, unless you live in one of the very few places where public transportation actually fills the needs of the citizens. In the US, that's pretty much limited to the biggest cities like [parts of] LA, SF, NY, Seattle, and so on.

    [...]you want to control society. There is a big difference -- those who want to voluntarily cooperate (capitalism) and those who want to control (authoritarianism).

    Capitalism is an artificial system of tyranny forced upon an unsuspecting, uneducated populace. So are all the other forms of society, unfortunately.

  • Re:So wait... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DeComposer ( 551766 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @03:45PM (#14429903) Journal
    "There's no money in simple criminal prosecution! Civil suits are where the dough is!"

    Money is nice, but sometimes you just want to see the bastards rot in jail.
  • Re:No, I don't. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Phillup ( 317168 ) on Monday January 09, 2006 @04:29PM (#14430283)
    First of all, everybody in the U.S. does have the right to freedom of speech.

    Unless you are flying... then you better shut your pie hole and don't you dare tell anyone how you feel or what you think.

    Otherwise, you are free to walk... If they don't "hold" you for a while first.

    Having to suffer unreasonable "consequenses" of speaking is not "freedom of speach".

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.