Annoyance isn't against the law, but, wait, it is now!

Annoyance isn't against the law, but, wait, it is now!

Summary: Remember freedom of speech? It's going away fast.

TOPICS: Telcos

Declan McCullagh catches a ridiculous new change to federal telecommunications laws: It is now illegal, after President Bush signed H.R. 3402, the "Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005," to harrass someone by posting an anonymous comment on their blog.

This is a law open to incredible abuse both by companies and politicians who want to silence critics. 

Section 113 of the bill includes this:

    (a) In General- Paragraph (1) of section 223(h) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 223(h)(1)) is amended--
      (1) in subparagraph (A), by striking `and' at the end;
      (2) in subparagraph (B), by striking the period at the end and inserting `; and'; and
      (3) by adding at the end the following new subparagraph:
        `(C) in the case of subparagraph (C) of subsection (a)(1), includes 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 (as such term is defined in section 1104 of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (47 U.S.C. 151 note)).'.

    (b) Rule of Construction- This section and the amendment made by this section may not be construed to affect the meaning given the term `telecommunications device' in section 223(h)(1) of the Communications Act of 1934, as in effect before the date of the enactment of this section.

The effect of this, even though you can't tell it from the language of the bill, is to rewrite this part of the Communications Act of 1934 to read: (B) makes a telephone call, whether or not conversation ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number and; (C) makes or causes the telephone of another repeatedly or continuously to ring, with intent to harass any person at the called number ((C) in the case of subparagraph (C) of subsection (a)(1), includes 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 (as such term is defined in section 1104 of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (47 U.S.C. 151 note)).’

That makes "annoying" someone via comments posted on a blog or Web site a crime punishable by fines of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months.

That's bad news, because it silences critics. Even if you find a critic annoying, they have a right to speak. The bargain we made with the Web was that everyone, even annoying anonymous critics, have a voice. That's been rolled back and, along with it, another important foundation of freedom of speech.

Topic: Telcos

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  • Conflicts with established jurisprudence

    Will be struck. Federal Court already establishes the long-held "anonymous tract" standard.

    BTW, my colleague David R. Burroughs, Executive Director of FEFFI, drafted the language in the VAWA renewal to strengthen its gender-neutrality.

    JJ Brannon
  • "Big Brother" laws

    It is no surprise that America is doing this. America is the major province of Orwell's Big Brother. Americans have been incited (by the secret brotherhood that deeply controls them and thwarts or influences much of their democratic process) to believe they have the right to interfere in the lives of everyone, not just their own, but every other nation. It's all part of the brotherhood's objectives, to control anything and everything worth controlling to support the lifestyle they want.
    • "Big Brother" laws

      Anonimity is the refuge of cowards, particularly when illegality is the motive. Who protects people and organizations from the slander so frequently and viciously employed by the Scheisskoepfe out there? No one. What about the moral cretins who attempt to profit financially or otherwise from spreading untruths they have crafted? No one.

      If you wish to report a crime, send snailmail to a competent authority. Or visit or call a journalist of your choice.
      • Illegality?

        As I understand it, any criticism that "annoys" can trigger this law. Just because I don't like the way someone is doing something, doesn't mean that I know or even think what's being done is illegal. That shouldn't remove my right to point out what they're doing goes against my beliefs. Or even if I feel that what they're doing goes against the spirit of the law, even if not the actual letter.

        I think Bush's motive (or at least his administration's) for going into Iraq had little to do with removing weapons of mass destruction, fighting terrorism or even to free the people from an oppressive dictator. Those would all have been worthy goals, although I question whether an invasion was the best way to accomplish the last in this case (and certainly not in the way it was attempted). Can I prove it? Not likely. I just don't have access to the information that could and likely couldn't get it no matter how hard I tried.

        So should I be able to point that out? Yes, as long as I don't say anything threatening, that I know to be untrue or in the way of slander. And for slander, given that we're discussing public officials, I should have a lot of leeway. As long as I meet those criteria, why shouldn't I be able to remain anonymous? If it's even technically possible. It may be paranoia, but it isn't as though the government has never targeted its critics (think Hoover and the FBI or Richard Milhouse Nixon, for starters). I shouldn't have to feel intimidated about voicing my opinions about entities that are far more powerful than I am. If anonymity allows me to do that or more importantly, encourages me to that, then the right to be unknown, allowing for the caveats stated above, has an significant function and needs to be maintained.
        • RE: Illegality? by mds

          Very well stated. I can't agree with you more.
      • I am annoyed by your anonymous post !

        Do you feel you deserve to be prosecuted ?
        I dont....
        The Reverend
      • The correct spelling is "Sieg Heil, mein F?hrer!"

        The thing to consider is the freedom of the press to protect their sources, according to this definition would also make those journalist with even the most sterling of press credentials, cretins criminals, subject to prosecution under this law? Because all of them to a person, depend upon anonymous sources so that i.e. if one quotes an anonymous source for drawing criticism then one is then guilty by de facto. It is an incongruous and simply incompatible with the principles of democracy who's very foundation is a free press. But this unlikely law seems powered by those in positions of power with the big bucks and thin skin who can control large segments of cyberspace by a means of simply buying out the large encoded portals that cater to certain sections of the demographic population that make use of the net and then by means of their Terms of Service, hold their membership captive for any kind of abuse (such as Internet long distant loan sharking activity) or anything that they might deem themselves able to get away. This law helps no one but the inside influence peddlers and corrupt politicians, corporation executives, and inside lobbyist who feel that they do have something to hide. In these days of the Jack Abramoff style of corruption scandal (which promises to dwarf any outrage we have yet to witnessed in our lifetime) leaves little doubt how such a bad law so poorly crafted could obtain the approval of those lawmakers who could barely read it? Because it was in their best interest not to read it... Only to click their heels and offer a snappy salute of "Sieg Heil, mein F?hrer!"
    • annoyance

      You know, your post here really annoys me. As it is posted without fully identifying yourself, please call the police immediately and turn yourself in.

      BTW, if this message annoys you then we are both guilty and may just end up as cellmates.

      Don't you just love what we allow our elected employees to do? Have you done your part today to supervise these employees?
    • You ned this
  • With power comes responsibility. The First Amendment was granted to allow

    criticism when we feel our leaders do wrong. That helps our leaders do what is right.

    For example, it is not right for our elected officials to make tax cuts - and especially give themselves big pay and health care raises - in times of economic concerns. What I've said might just annoy them. And they don't want people to know what is being said, because people are bound to say it too. And we can't have that.

    For leaders do pull this horrible stunt means they want us to shut up.

    So much for a republic. Or a democracy. Or anything greater than a despot-driven nation if more Constitution-burning laws like this one get passed.

    (Don't get me wrong; baseless slander is a problem. I mean, Tom Cruise isn't gay. After all, he said so. But since when is criticizing or name-calling politicians who care more for their own well-being than the masses of people who voted them in wrong? 2001, apparently. Even in 2004, nobody expected this new law to be passed.)

    On the plus side, even China is wary of the US' economic status. Should they convert to the Euro, or demand their investments back, we will be in big trouble. Can you say "war"? And a real war this time. For real reasons and real threats. Not the twiddley-winks wars of convenience of the past. Real, dirty, deadly war. And darn right I'm afraid. But I've got no power, and no longer a voice. So I'm going to go party every weekend until the end. There's no point in whining about what cannot be changed. May as well have some fun while we still can.
  • Stupid

    Just one more way to prove you live in the land of the not so free.It's digusting to look at the errossion of freedoms in the former land of the free.I guess now your only free if you have a good lawyer or lots of money
  • Annoyance

    The law is a crime against the first amendment and it's writers and supporters should be fined $50,000 and jailed!
    • im wondering...

      if the law applies to the prez... if i find him annoying, can i sue for $50000 or does he have to be a woman?
  • confirming Identity Possible?

    US citizens are required by the new law to disclose their identity in order to make an annoying comment. The question laying here is - would it be possible to confirm the identity? It sounds impossible. The outcome would probably be the usage of pen names\nicknames (or usage of phony names is a better phrasing?) for disclosure needs.

    Oh? and what about comments from non US citizens? Are they asked to disclose their identity as well?

    And what would be the definition for ?annoying? Disagreeing can be categorized as an annoying comment as well, isn?t it?
    • ID thru IP address

      No problem - From the television: Murderer mails police a description of murder and a map printed from a popular website showing the body's location. Police search website records for instances of that map being requested and get a match: date/time and an IP address, then they contact the ISP and search their records for the subscriber using that IP address during that time. Of course they find a match, get his address and nail him - well done on the part of the police! Big brother knows all....AAAAHHHH!!!! lol. Take it EZ. R.
      • IP Address

        So that is how they catch all those virus writers out there huh? If someone wants to hide their tracks well enough on the Internet they can. I'm not talking about your average script kiddie. I'm talking about someone who really knows the in's and out's of hacking. Spoofing your IP address is one example. Hacking multiple PC's through multiple ISP's and then accessing a site and then erasing all tracks left behind for a trace is another. The feds are always a step behind the latest intrusion technologies.
      • re: ID thru IP address

        That's great! Woohoo--the good guys win again!

        Oh, wait. What about botnets? How do you *know* that the person who owns that IP address was the one who actually went to the web site, etc., etc.

        Okay, suppose there's no evidence that there is or ever was malware on the computer (they're using Linux ;P ), so your confident the activity originated on that computer. But which member of the household was it? Maybe it's Mom, or Dad, or it could be the teenage wait, the teenage son had his three best friends over...which one was it?

        Sorry--ID through IP may be good enough for terminating the account of a spammer, but were I a juror in a criminal case, I would have reasonable doubt if the IP address was all that was used to identify the perpetrator.
        • re: ID thru IP address

          Well, then if you can be identified then you can argue that you were not attempting to be anonymous!!!
      • On point of full disclosure, This is the President*

        I am sending this from my Presidential laptop at a location that I cannot disclose right now due to reasons of National Security. By the time you trace my IP address I would have already boarded AF1 and been on my way.

        I just want to leagally harras you and since I have to identify myself, here is where you can contact me:

        The White House
        1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
        Washington, DC 20500

        Phone Numbers

        Comments: 202-456-1111
        Switchboard: 202-456-1414
        FAX: 202-456-2461


        Comments: 202-456-6213
        Visitors Office: 202-456-2121

        Please send your comments to Due to the large volume of e-mail received, the White House cannot respond to every message. For further up-to-date information on Presidential initiatives, current events, and topics of interest to you, please continue to use the White House website.

        Of course, if you do not believe that I am the President*, when you do trace this to the Internet-facing IP address of the firewall at this location, have fun trying to prove which of the other 60+ people here today actually sent this.

        If you ask me, I will engage Executive Privilege, if not the fifth (since any other answer is definately likely to incriminate me).

        Anyway, quite annoying me. I have a nation to run and my plane leaves in two minutes (although it won't leave without me, I can't keep my friend, Tom Delay, waiting on the first tee).

        Dubya, The President*
        Published under the pseudonym<
        The King's Servant

        *[b]P[/b]erson [b]R[/b]epresenting [b]E[/b]very [b]S[/b]tupid, [b]I[/b]diotic [b]D[/b]im-wit [b]E[/b]lected [b]N[/b]otwithstanding [b]T[/b]rust.
        The King's Servant
    • typical government SNAFU

      I think that it is intentionally vague so that no-one really knows what the law means.