In an attempt to update electronic communication law, which has traditionally involved only telephones, Arizona is on the edge criminalizing a range of speech on the internet and throughout the new electronic media. Sponsored by state Rep. Ted Vogt, Arizona HB 2549 passed the legislature and is now before Governor Jan Brewer’s desk.
Here is the primary language within HB 2549:
It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use 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. It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous electronic or digital communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the communications were received.
It is one thing for a person to telephone another and “terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend.” There is degree of privacy that is universally accepted within one’s home. Generally, that involves telephone calls because they are answered while in one’s home, unless it is a cell phone. It is not completely dissimilar from answering a door. Repeated calls or knocks should be prohibited as no one needs to be harassed in this manner.
Some parts of this law can be adequately extended from telephones to other electronic devices because no one should feel terrified, intimidated or threatened. Harassment, in most cases, should also not be tolerated. The problem is that HB 2549 does not limit itself to one-on-one communications. Any communications involving writing, video making or even speech that is transmitted via electronics falls into the broad reaches of its jurisdiction. That is why the annoying and offending provisions, even some of the lesser harassment possibilities, could land people afoul of Arizona law by what they post on YouTube or write on a Facebook page.
The bill is probably unconstitutional as it stands. Either way, it chills free speech in Arizona.
Someone in another state could write a critical post about someone in Arizona, then be charged with a misdemeanor if that person crosses the border into Arizona. The law does not just affect the places where the offensive communication originated but also where it was received.
The bill is vague about what is annoying or offensive, but to threaten criminalization over this is where the real threatening, terrifying and intimidating behavior resides. Hopefully, Brewer trashes this affront to the First Amendment quickly.