H.R. 1966: Offend Someone Online - Go To Prison

Wednesday, May 06, 2009 Posted by Shattered Paradigm

At a time when freedom of speech is already under attack like never before, a shocking new bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would make it a felony to offend someone online.

A felony.

Under this new law you would not just be slapped on the wrist and have to pay a fine.

You would go to big boy prison.

While most free speech activists have been watching the recent "hate crimes" bill, this much more insidious piece of legislation has received almost no notice whatsoever.

Just take a look at what H.R. 1966 actually says.....

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.

Whoa.

So if you offend someone on Facebook you could go to federal prison for two years?

Yup.

If your blog insults someone and causes them to feel bad you could go to prison for two years?

Yeppers.

If you are in a bad mood one day and you send fire off an angry tweet on Twitter that you maybe should not have you could go to prison for two years over it?

Yes indeed.

Are you starting to get the picture yet?

Talk about an attempt to chill free speech.

So if someone reads something that you have written and it makes them feel bad they can take it to the feds and have them come get you?

That is a very, very frightening thought.

The reality is that the government is increasingly trying to control even the very small details of our lives. They are even increasingly trying to control what we say and what we think.

Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of a free society. If we are not free to express ourselves without the fear that someone will be offended, then what freedom will we really have left?

The reality is that if we do not stand up to this, the United States of America will quickly become overrun with politically-correct "commissars" who are eager to throw anyone who disagrees with them in jail for "hate crimes" and "thought crimes".

Things are already out of control in the United Kingdom. Did you know that there are actually undercover officers in some areas of the U.K. that sit in bars and restaurants listening for anyone who might say something offensive or racist?

You may laugh, but the United States is quickly heading down that road.

The full text of H.R. 1966 is below.....

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http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.R.1966:

Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act (Introduced in House)
HR 1966 IH

111th CONGRESS
1st Session

H. R. 1966
To amend title 18, United States Code, with respect to cyberbullying.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
April 2, 2009

Ms. LINDA T. SANCHEZ of California (for herself, Ms. KAPTUR, Mr. YARMUTH, Ms. ROYBAL-ALLARD, Mrs. CAPPS, Mr. BISHOP of New York, Mr. BRALEY of Iowa, Mr. GRIJALVA, Mr. HARE, Mr. HIGGINS, Mr. CLAY, Mr. SARBANES, Mr. DAVIS of Illinois, Mr. COURTNEY, and Mr. KIRK) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

A BILL
To amend title 18, United States Code, with respect to cyberbullying.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act’.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

Congress finds the following:
(1) Four out of five of United States children aged 2 to 17 live in a home where either they or their parents access the Internet.
(2) Youth who create Internet content and use social networking sites are more likely to be targets of cyberbullying.
(3) Electronic communications provide anonymity to the perpetrator and the potential for widespread public distribution, potentially making them severely dangerous and cruel to youth.
(4) Online victimizations are associated with emotional distress and other psychological problems, including depression.
(5) Cyberbullying can cause psychological harm, including depression; negatively impact academic performance, safety, and the well-being of children in school; force children to change schools; and in some cases lead to extreme violent behavior, including murder and suicide.
(6) Sixty percent of mental health professionals who responded to the Survey of Internet Mental Health Issues report having treated at least one patient with a problematic Internet experience in the previous five years; 54 percent of these clients were 18 years of age or younger.

SEC. 3. CYBERBULLYING.


(a) In General- Chapter 41 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
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.
(b) As used in this section–
(1) the term ‘communication’ means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; and
(2) the term `electronic means’ means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.’.
(b) Clerical Amendment- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 41 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new item:
881. Cyberbullying.’.

28 comments:

  1. indymike said...

    I'm glad you posted this. This bill is really, really bad and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) needs to be seriously shamed for sponsoring the bill. Problem is that if the bill passes, and I say (through anything electronic and connected to an information service): "Linda Sanchez is a big fat idiot who needs to DIAF!" I've just earned myself 2 years in the federal pen. Nice. So much for my rights.

    My full take on Sanchez's folly is here:
    http://mikeseidle.com/blogs/indymike/09-05-05/linda-sanchez-d-ca-would-you-shut

  2. Keith said...

    You're a moron. The actions must be severe, repeated, and hostile.

    "So if you offend someone on Facebook you could go to federal prison for two years?"

    NO! If you continually post harassing messages to their account you may...but one instance? No.

    "If your blog insults someone and causes them to feel bad you could go to prison for two years?"

    NO! Unless you repeatedly do it in a SEVERE and hostile manner...like posting a different way to kill the person every day for a month.

    "If you are in a bad mood one day and you send fire off an angry tweet on Twitter that you maybe should not have you could go to prison for two years over it?"

    NO! Obviously you have no concept of the word "repeated".

    "Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of a free society. If we are not free to express ourselves without the fear that someone will be offended, then what freedom will we really have left?"

    Freedom of Speech is not absolute - there are some valid restrictions. In this case, they're not restricting WHAT you say, but, rather, HOW you say it (Repeated, severe, hostile). Say something once, it's okay. Say something moderately offensive, it's okay. But harass someone over the internet in a manner that ALREADY WOULD BE A CRIME IF YOU DID IT OVER THE PHONE - then you're in trouble.

  3. invisiblechild said...

    you should try that "reading comprehension" thing everybody's told you about but you never quite understood.

  4. Travis said...

    Oooohh..... I HOPE this gets passed. First thing I'll do is point it at Karl Rove's Twitter account. Then, I'll claim the text of the bill itself as offending me, and press charges against the people who wrote this gem up. It will be beautiful...

  5. mdrareone said...

    Though I get the point you intend to make I feel like much of today's information sources you are over-hyping some of the facts to scare people into seeing things your way and bring hits into your site.
    This bill doesn't say offend someone and go to jail. The not so subtle difference that you overlooked is "severe, repeated, and hostile behavior" is the modifier that you chose to ignore.

    This is a lame and dangerous attempt to punish cyber bullies. I would find it more honest if you stressed that though the bill does say 'severe, repeated, and hostile behavior' that it is likely that such arbitrary verbiage leaves the door upon to misuse. Instead you resort to the everybody panic mode that every FARKER reads about daily.

    To bad it works on so much of the populace that it has becomes the norm and there is no longer trustworthy reporting that is unbiased.

    Maybe a bill for biased reporting is needed it would certainly clean up the mainstream media.

  6. Rapture said...

    I'll start here:

    HUSTLER MAGAZINE v. FALWELL, 485 U.S. 46 (1988) "At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern......Debate on public issues will not be uninhibited if the speaker must run the risk that it will be proved in court that he spoke out of hatred; even if he did speak out of hatred, utterances honestly believed contribute to the free interchange of ideas and the ascertainment of truth." [485 U.S. 46, 51]
    ....

    and go on here:

    "[T]he [485 U.S. 46, 51] freedom to speak one's mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty - and thus a good unto itself - but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole." Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 466 U.S. 485, 503 -504 (1984). "Freedoms of expression require breathing space." Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps, 475 U.S. 767, 772 (1986)

    and further...

    More specifically... to forums like Blogspot, here, et al...: Global Telemedia International, Inc. v. Doe 1; 132 F.Supp.2d 1261 Bidbay.com v. Spry, No. B160126, 2003, Cal. App. Unpub. Lexis 2057
    Considering that the internet provides "the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed," Reno, 929 F.Supp. at 883, it is not surprising that courts have uniformly held or, deeming the proposition obvious, simply assumed that internet venues to which members of the public have relatively easy access constitute a "public forum" or a place "open to the public" [such as Blogspot, here .. et al.] within the meaning of section 425.16. Barrett, 9 Cal.Rptr.3d at 149 (2004) (citing ComputerXpress, Inc., 93 Cal.App.4th at 1007, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 625;Global Telemedia Intern., Inc. v. Doe, 132 F. Supp.2d 1261, 1264 (C.D.Cal.2001); Nicosia v. DeRooy, 72 F.Supp.2d 1093 (N.D. Cal.1999)).

    Let us not forget...

    New.net, Inc. v. Lavasoft. 356 F.Supp.2d 1090 (C.D.Cal. 2004) Cases construing the term "public forum" as used in section 425.16 have noted that the term is "traditionally defined as a place that is open to the public where information is freely exchanged."

    ComputerXpress, Inc., 93 Cal.App.4th at 1006, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 625 (quoting Damon v. Ocean Hills Journalism Club, 85 Cal.App.4th 468, 475, 102 Cal. Rptr.2d 205 (2000)). "Under its plain meaning, a public forum is not limited to a physical setting, but also includes other forms of public communication such as electronic communication media like the internet."

    ComputerXpress, Inc., 93 Cal. App.4th at 1006, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 625 (citing Hatch v. Superior Court, 80 Cal.App.4th 170, 79 Cal.App.4th 663, 94 Cal.Rptr.2d 453 (2000)) (noting, although not in the context of section 425.16, that internet communications have been described as "classical forum communications")


    ....

    R.

  7. Miss Washuu said...

    the catch here is INTENT. It's really difficult to prove intent. If I post "Linda Sanchez is a moron" is it my INTENT to voice my opinion or is it my INTENT to bully her? You don't know.

    Intent can only be proven through repeated actions. In short, this bill will prevent nothing. I would go so far as to say that in order to prove intent, you have to expose the victim to REPEATED ACTS that this bill is trying to prevent.

    Some protection...

  8. Not That Much, Really said...

    This article is wildly inaccurate. Even the part that you quoted doesn't at all support the notion that "if your blog insults someone and causes them to feel bad you could go to prison." It needs to be "repeated, severe, and hostile behavior" intentionally aimed to "coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause severe emotional distress." Explain how a blog entry that offends someone meets these criteria.

    This bill is clearly aimed at people who stalk others online, or ex-boyfriends who threaten to release naked pictures of their girlfriends on the internet, or other despicable acts of that ilk. There's no threat to free speech here.

  9. Josholland said...

    All of the examples here are never going to happen. 2 years in jail for offending someone on Facebook? Please. Remember that mother that harassed her kid's gay classmate anonymously online? she convinced the kid to commit suicide and he did. That's murder. This is what the law is meant to combat. People don't seem to think harassment is criminal when they're hiding behind a computer. 90% of the population would be in jail in your Orwellian fantasy, and that's just impossible.

    I was linked here by a friend, and I share some of your concerns, but your paranoia and twisting of facts greatly discredits you. Reel it back a bit.

  10. A.Smith said...

    While I don't know if I agree that this should be a federal law, somebody needs to do something about cyber bullying. Perhaps states need to take on the responsibility, perhaps schools need to monitor. Perhaps some parents need to do a better job of teaching their kids when insensitive crosses over into cruel and evil.

    I think to suggest that this would mean that because you offend someone online you could go to jail is a purposeful misrepresentation of what this bill is clearly attempting to do. Perhaps it isn't the best idea, but it's better than sitting back and acting like cyberbullying is something someone made up.

    How many children have to kill themselves before someone says we need to do something?

  11. sugardave said...

    Of course, if you run your own site, the content of your initial posting could include things like HTML markup or PHP code...then when displayed, it is just plain text. Thus, it fails the "without change in the form or content" test...laughably weak loophole right there.

    That being said, this namby-pamby bullshit needs to stop.

  12. corneilius said...

    Philosophically, one CHOOSES to be offended by the words, utterances, writings of others. Whereas harm, when it is caused, is not chosen, it is imposed.

    Therefore it has to be proven that a(harm is intended b) harm is caused by the words etc c)and that the person who claims harm/offense is not CHOOSING to so choose.

    Sticks and stones etc etc

  13. corneilius said...

    cyberbullying by children is just a smokescreen - there are other ways to instruct and protect children from cyber bullying, like letting them in on the secret that offense is a choice, that as it's not 'in yer face' so to speak, there is time to inform parents etc or to formulate a witty reply and so on....current government practice is to set precedents in one area that are then applied elsewhere... hence the bill as it is...

  14. jaspersneed said...

    From "Not That Much, Really":

    "This bill is clearly aimed at people who stalk others online, or ex-boyfriends who threaten to release naked pictures of their girlfriends on the internet, or other despicable acts of that ilk. There's no threat to free speech here."

    You're dead wrong. The threat of such a bill lies in what it will be used and abused for once passed, which long experience tells us will not be merely what it was putatively aimed at when written. Very long experience I might add; there is ample reason why our 1st Amendment begins in such strikingly peremptory language: "CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW....."

  15. Ryan said...

    It won't survive. In this case, there's FAR too much potential for abuse. "Repeated" can be construed as "more than once," so if this were to pass, then ANYONE saying ANYTHING even mildly offensive (as "severe" and "hostile" are both flexible in their interpretations) more than once can have federal charges field against them. Essentially, most news outlets and politicians would be in prison inside of a month. Maybe this isn't so bad....

  16. ding said...

    "This bill is clearly aimed at people who stalk others online, or ex-boyfriends who threaten to release naked pictures of their girlfriends on the internet, or other despicable acts of that ilk. There's no threat to free speech here."

    If I'm part of a group trying to organise a protest or a consumer action, do my organizing posts meet the definition of "repeated" in this statute?

    If someone takes offense because I've putatively insulted them, their family|ethnic group|religion|whatever, does that meet the statute's meaning of "harrassing" or "hostile"? Does it risse to those levels if it meets the nebulous "repeated" conditioni?

    Imagine the effect if Monster Cable had this statue in its arsenal when it goes after people who complain about its actiosn against those who would use the word "monster" in a product or service name.

  17. ding said...

    I supply a quote attributed to former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis:

    "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

    This proposed statute demonstrates the worst attributes he spoke about. The *perceived need to do something* does not mean that doing *anything* is right or well or good.

  18. Christina said...

    Keith-why does someone have to be a moron because they don't interpret something the way you do? Name calling really never gets your point across does it? It actually just incites the person you are trying to convince.

  19. Christina said...

    Would Perez Hilton be prosecuted?

  20. WernerPatels said...

    My thoughts can be found here.

    I'm outraged!

  21. Jon said...

    LOL@Christina

    Conspiracy to put young squirmy white males in prison with old big black men if you ask me. (Oh and don't call it racist because I am black :))

  22. Dave said...

    In response to:
    "This article is wildly inaccurate. Even the part that you quoted doesn't at all support the notion that "if your blog insults someone and causes them to feel bad you could go to prison." It needs to be "repeated, severe, and hostile behavior" intentionally aimed to "coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause severe emotional distress." Explain how a blog entry that offends someone meets these criteria.

    This bill is clearly aimed at people who stalk others online, or ex-boyfriends who threaten to release naked pictures of their girlfriends on the internet, or other despicable acts of that ilk. There's no threat to free speech here. "

    - Wrong; This is against free speech. - Attack on dissent:

    Connect the dots at criticalunityDOTorg

  23. Bryan said...

    This is based on the suicide of Megan Meier, which was associated with a woman who created a fake myspace account in which she pretended to be a 16 year old boy, pretended to be attracted to her, and then told her "he" didn't want to talk to her anymore.

    Okay, so if this bill's intent were truly to punish this sort of behavior, then it would have labeled the causing of a suicide (as if people had no choice in the matter) as the actual commission of the crime. But that's not what it does. Speech is the actual crime. I smell an agenda here.

    Also, a girl or guy may break up with their boyfriend/girlfriend, trying to "let them down gently", only to have that person become depressed and commit suicide? Should they, then, be charged with a murder, or a felony? No. People should own their own emotions and actions.

    People who commit suicide are responsible for their own death- terrible tragedy or not. For god's sake, they made the choice! This may even encourage suicide, because you better believe there will be people willing to kill themselves and get someone they've had a falling out with sent to prison out of spite. Can you not see a rejected lover doing this after an argument online? You cannot blame a suicide on someone else. I'm sorry- I don't care what age you are.

    Let me repeat again, though, that this bill would prosecute cases lacking suicide or any real physical damage. It is highly suspect of being a manufactured-crisis-response. Regardless of its aim, though, this is simply not up for discussion in congress.

    Freedom is dangerous. It comes with risks and we must bear those privately, within our own individual sovereignty, if we want to keep it. The first amendment is FAR more important than this crap. I don't care if that sounds cold- that's life, people. Think about this. Every year in this country, 40-50,000 people die in car accidents, yet we tolerate it. But a handful of people kill themselves over *gasp* "cyber-bullying" and we're about to pass a law sentencing people to prison- which has a far higher tendency to foment the desire to commit suicide (especially if you get raped)?!

    We are equating being offended (a form of 'distress') online with being imprisoned for 2 BLOODY YEARS?! Reading an insulting, or angry email or message board comment is supposed to be equivalently as distressing an experience as being held in prison for 2 YEARS?! Having guards yelling at you and treating you like an animal for 2 YEARS is being compared with being temporarily distressed over an unkind comment on the net?! Please. What kind of pathetic narcissists have we become as a society?

    Lastly, the prevention of harrassment is an utterly spurious claim. It's the internet! You don't have to go where the offending party is! You can block them, or go to another website! No one is holding a gun to your head to go to a particular site, communicate with a particular person, or even get on the bloody internet in the first place! Real-world harrassment is being stalked and having someone follow you, and impose their presence on you. Could you claim David Letterman were harrassing you if you saw him on TV say several things you felt insulted or distressed you? You would be laughed out of court! They'd tell you to change the channel.

    Bottom line, though is you can have freedom with danger, or you can have oppression with so-called "safety". You can't have both. If you think every wall in this nation needs to be padded, then shouldn't we all be wearing straight-jackets? No. For god's sake, use some common sense here. I'm sorry, but you have to be an idiot to defend this madness.

  24. kennboy1 said...

    I know, ding and Bryan i couldn't of said it better myself.

  25. Buckeyefan24 said...

    This is scary as hell. Thank you for posting this and getting the word out. I'm actually scared as hell at the power this government has right now. They are tighting their grip.

  26. MACED said...

    I think some of you are missing the point here....it's not the cyber bullying that will you get you tossed in jail. Think about it. What would you call someone who sets up a web site that say, opposes the Obama administration? Would you not consider this "bullying"? Maybe YOU wouldn't....but this is the road we're heading down. CAREFUL down that path...

  27. godlikemonolith said...

    It is mind boggling the ignorance (and I mean that in the true sense of the word not a slight) that has spawned the deficit of reason and logic in public discourse today. Our previous government was 'actually' breaking the law and infringing on our rights of privacy for the last eight years and now people feel the government is getting too strong by passing a bill on harassment? Harassment and threatening behaviour is illegal. On the phone, in person and soon to be online you will not have the right to stalk and harass anyone. The slippery slope argument is a fallacious one.
    It is this type of scaremongering that has led to the retardation of debate in the US. There is a debate to be had concerning levels of freedom within speech but whether this bill passes or not you will still be able to write the nonsense as witnessed above without fear of prosecution (as protected by the Supreme Court).
    Oh and I am an American living in the UK for 11 years now and the reference to this country's laws is absolute and total rubbish.
    Freedom of speech has responsibility attached.

  28. Robert Ninja said...

    The very news of this law offends me, and I've read it online - Who do I get to charge with this law?

    PARADOX

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