A real annoyance: Poorly crafted public policy

Summary:You may not realize it yet, but you are likely a felon, or at least you're committing felonious acts.  All you have to do is say something (anything) that annoys someone and not use your real name.

You may not realize it yet, but you are likely a felon, or at least you're committing felonious acts.  All you have to do is say something (anything) that annoys someone and not use your real name.  If you've written a comment on a blog, left a message on a stock board, or sent an email without properly identifying yourself, then you've probably broken a brand-new federal law that reads, in part:

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 both.

Let's face it, we're all annoying from time to time.  This has to be one of the best example of bad public technology policy I've seen in a long time.  I can understand the need to protect people against threatening and harassing behavior.  The old telephone language hasn't been enough to stop this kind of behavior in other venues.  There are a few problems:

  1. This really isn't a federal issue.  States do a fine job of policing this kind of behavior and we don't need to (literally) make a federal case out of it.
  2. The law is overly broad and is bound to be unenforceable.
Last session, the Utah legislature passed a law with similar motives, but it was much more carefully crafted.  The bill's sponsor, John Dougall, gets technology (MSEE and VP of Technology at WaveTronix) and took special care to make the language do what was intended with as few side-effects as possible.  It's not perfect, I'm sure, but it's a far cry more precise than the federal catch-all that makes felons of all of us.  Think twice before you leave a comment here--it might annoy someone.

Topics: Telcos

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