Saturday, July 11, 2009

Should Congress Regulate Cyberbullying?

The intent of legislation pending in the Congress may be good. But there are those who fear that it will have unintended consequences. Unintended consequences which may stifle free speech.

It's called the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act. Named after a young lady who committed suicide after having been harassed on the Internet.

But the wording of HR 1966 could be interpreted, critics argue, as a broad criminalization of spirited debate on the Internet. In other words, bloggers, Internet talk show hosts, social networking site posters, chatters and even e-mailers could face prison time for voicing their opinions.

Here's the wording, directly from the bill, that is causing so much angst. Judge for yourself:

Sec. 881. Cyberbullying

    `(a) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

5 comments:

Kyle said...

"Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce..."

The Interstate Commerce Clause was written to do exactly that. Interstate Commerce. It was not written for the Federal Government to have a blank check to do whatever the heck they wanted. It is the most abused part of the Constitution out of its original intent, and is a sad loophole that really needs closing, or judges to do their job and consider any legislation written using the Commerce Clause to expand Federal jurisdiction unconstitutional.

Anonymous said...

No. Bullies are everywhere and standing up to them is part of natural selection.

Don Rich

Anonymous said...

no. harassment and stalking are already crimes. there seem to be ample tools in the law to deal with that kind of behavior.

Anonymous said...

Congress can't regulate usurious bank interest rates, let alone the activities on the webs.

Sec 881(a) seems to be dealing with these issues in the ways that Postal Service misuse is handled.

In some situations, being found guilty of merely using the postal or wire services in the commission of a crime carries more sentencing weight than the actual crime.

I recently read where a monstrous gang in Florida was rounded up under the Racketeering laws. No other existing law would allow for arrest and a successful trial, because the gang would simply kill all of the witnesses or participants at will.

Perhaps an equivalent to the Racketeering laws will be needed in order to deal with cyber bullying.

It doesn't look good, given the resources of good defense attorneys.

The trick is to get a jury to convict on a fairly reasonable basis. Watch...poor and of color = convictions for simple harassment or expressions of anger and hate.

White and/or wealthy = a walk, even though great harm resulted and intent was "obvious".

Sec 881(a) is at best, poorly written and is a gateway to more selective and unfair abuse of power. At worst, it's useless. INTENT, no matter how detailed the records of conversations are, is still incredibly hard to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.

How many cases where the ultimate records: clear sound and video records were in evidence, got past the test of INTENT?

(I'm not yelling, I just don't know how to pimp italics in a comment).

This is a compelling discussion. I hope that there is much more comment to your post. I hope to learn something here.

Doug said...

Wouldn't an end to cyber bullying be an end to Paltalk, rofl.