Monday, January 09, 2006

New US law slipped through under unrelated bill

ZDNet News has an interesting article on a new bill just signed into law in the US. Apparently this was bundled in with an unrelated bill and now make it a criminal offense to "annoy" someone online without divulging your real identity and is punishable by up to two years in prison.

If true, then Google is going to be busy with legal requests/subpoenas asking for the identities of various folks who frequent the c.d.o.s. Usenet groups as well as anyone involved in online forums/blogs where their identity are unknown or anonymous.

Now, it didn't say whether the bill is retroactive to past postings. I would suspect not and nor do I understand what the implications are to non-US residents like myself. For example, if you are not based in the US but uses a US-based service (e.g. Google), are you then subject to this new law?

I think it would be purdent to keep an eye/ear on how this will progress via the Electronic Frontier Foundation as they definitely will have updates on the implications/cases of this new bill.

4 comments:

Gary Myers said...

It amends the Comminications Act of 1934.
http://www.fcc.gov/Reports/1934new.pdf

The ZDNET report doen't, IMHO, tell the full story. The "without disclosing his identity" is part of :
"(C) makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications
device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications;"

It refers to 'communications', and the context suggests it is aimed more at emails and instant messaging (ie person to person) contact than web postings. USENET and mailing lists are probably more of a grey area, as the recipient always has the choice to unsubscribe.

Bill S. said...

Had to wonder what the hell they were thinking. I mean, suppose I write a letter of complaint and DON'T put a return address on it and DON'T say who I am in it. Does that constitute annoy (,abuse, threaten or harass) any person? I mean, TECHNICALLY a letter is a communication device.

This is why unrelated material should be prohibited from being introduced into bills. Our elected representatives have finally gone too far, and they must be reigned in.

Peter K said...

I think the problem is with the fact that they have just added the following, `(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)).' to update the act to include any devices/software that can be used for communications and if the original Act says "
makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or ommunication ensues,without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications;
.

You have the potential to apply this to blogs, emails, messaging, or web postings as all of the above are forms of communications. Who is to say that someone might be annoyed by various postings and could potential file charges against the author. For example, if I constantly and consistently post about an individual or group of individuals, then the intent to "annoy or harass" is there? Hmm, if someone persistently post about Larry Ellison not willing to get Oracle to do something about security (or lack of) in the Oracle products, that individual could potentially be brought up on charges under the new act. Food for thought.

Eddie Awad said...

The whole thing is open to all kinds of interpretation. For example, define "annoy"!

BTW Peter, somehow your comment on my blog was identified as spam. I have just recovered it from a couple of hundred spam comments (trackbacks to be exact).