Today, Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed Arizona House Bill 2729 — a piece of legislation concerning firearm freedoms. Being an Internet law firm, though, we’re more curious to see if Gov. Brewer will use the same veto power on Arizona House Bill 2549.
A few weeks ago, the Arizona Legislature angered First Amendment advocates and freedom-loving netizens. Copper State officials poked the “hive mind” by passing Arizona House Bill 2549 – an Act intended to thwart cyberbullying and stalking, has instead caused consternation in free speech circles.
Arizona House Bill 2549 Basics
When you divorce Arizona’s new Internet law from legal analysis, its administrative purpose is to update section 13-2916 of the Arizona Revised Statutes – the state’s long-standing telephone harassment law.
A one-and-a-half-paged piece of legislation, all 2549 does is redact the words “telephone” from the statute and replaces it with “any Electronic or digital device.”
Sounds simple enough, right? After all, everyone agrees that laws need to catch up to our new-fangled communication tools, correct?
Well, not everything is as simple as it seems.
The Language of Arizona House Bill 2549: Harmless or A First Amendment Threat?
Though the ostensible intent of 2549 is noble, the problem with the bill is its lack of definitions. While the updates address the outdated “telephone language,” the surrounding verbiage remains unchanged, and the result is causing a few raised eye-brows amongst legal eagles.
The excerpt attracting attention:
“It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend to use a telephone or any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.”
The Internet is the last bastion of free speech…and if there’s one universal online mantra, it’s “what’s crude and lewd for you, may not be crude and lewd for me.” Hence, the concern over Arizona’s new Internet Conduct Law.
Arizona House Bill 2549 also says that “disturbing the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the…Communications were received” is a class 1 misdemeanor; it makes threatening online stalking a class 5 felony and online death threats a class 8 felony.
Arizona’s new Internet Protection Law also defines “immediate family members” as any person who regularly resides with the person in the household within the past six months. A measure undoubtedly included to allow parents to bring charges, on behalf of their children, against cyberbullies.
Proponents Say Speech Is Protected In Arizona Bill 2549
But are the free speech advocates screaming fire when there’s little cause for concern? Advocates of the bill point out that 2549 explicitly states: “’constitutionally protected activity or other activity authorized by the law’ cannot be prosecuted under this statute.”
That said, when it comes to drafting laws, little wiggle room exists. When you change “telephone” to “electronic communications” without definition, the scope of the act widens and falls dangerously close to infringing on personal freedoms. Before, if you were using the telephone to harass someone your target was a specific person. With the Internet, there’s a greater chance that bystanders could view it and be offended. As such, the statute should focus more on the intent, as opposed to the action. The language of the bill should be tweaked to include language surrounding the concept of “harassment.”
For those interested in law redundancies, take note that Arizona already has a computer harassment statute on the books – A.R.S. 13-2921 – which makes illegal “a communication with another person by verbal, electronic, mechanical, telegraphic, telephonic or written means in a manner that harasses.” Makes one wonder: Do we really need two online harassment laws?
The Future Of Cyberbullying Legislation
When asked, state representative and co-sponsor of 2549, Steve Farley, said the intention of the bill was to protect stalking and cyber bully victims. Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, elaborated by explaining he was a “defender of the Constitution like anyone else, but the First Amendment doesn’t give you the right to harass and terrorize someone.”
The clamor surrounding Arizona Bill 2549 has prompted officials to pull-back and tweak the language. When the updated version is released, we’ll see if they listened to objections and incorporated the necessary changes.
And most importantly, we’ll see if Gov. Brewer’s veto pen will get some more exercise.