Monday, January 09, 2006

Even More Cyberstalking

Garance has more on this. I'm not trying to beat a dead horse on this as I don't think the world is going to end because of laws like this. Cyberstalking laws are necessary and I imagine that in general the hurdle to get authorities to look into something like this would be rather difficult and that an uptight pol or a thinskinned blogger wouldn't generally have much luck doing so. But, still, Garance says that I live in a state covered by cyberstalking laws already, which is true, but the law is quite different. PA law:

Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 5504 —- Harassment by communication or address:

(A) A person commits the crime of harassment by communication or address when, with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another, that person:

(1) Communicates to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures; or

(2) Communicates repeatedly in an anonymous manner;

(3) Communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours;

(4) Communicates repeatedly in a manner not covered by paragraph (2) or (3).

(F) Definitions: "Communicates." Conveys, without intent of legitimate communication or address, by written or electronic means, including telephone, electronic mail, Internet, facsimile, telex and similar transmission.

So, the PA law requires either threatening or obscene language or repeated behavior. Sounds about how such laws should be but that isn't actually what's in the federal law.

As for this:

Additionally, the recent F.E.C. decisions to treat bloggers under the media exemption would -- I would think -- greatly complicate attempts by politicians to shut down bloggers by using the online cyberstalking statute against them.

That's not quite true. All we really have from the FEC is an advisory opinion for the Fired Up! group of sites. It's an advisory opinion which would presumably apply to most bloggers, but the FEC has yet to codify regulations regarding the internet as they've been obligated to do. And, since they just got 3 new commissioners who weren't there for the public comment process and because this is an issue where even slightly badly worded regulations could cause a whole bunch of trouble for bloggers this isn't a done deal.

In any case, I don't think federal regulations with respect to federal election law will have much to do with criminal law regarding online activity generally. And, while there haven't been a large number of them that I'm aware of bloggers have been victims of SLAPP suits which, no matter the merits, can be a big pain in the ass. A criminal proceeding would be moreso.

Again, cyberstalking laws are good and I doubt that in practice this law will cause problems, but that doesn't change the fact that it could've been more reasonably written to avoid the possibility of potential abuse by those who have a greater power to get the ear of a US Attorney.