Today the Arizona state legislature passed House Bill 2549 making it illegal to use or post “offensive” language online. Although passed under the guise of being an anti-bullying bill, House Bill 2549, if signed by Governor Brewer, would effectively amount to censorship of any content state officials deem “offensive”. This censorship would apply to any and all electronic communications including articles, editorials, blog comments, illustrations, cartoons, and even Facebook wall posts and status updates. The censorship likely also extends to emails and text messages, based on the broad language of the bill. The pertinent part of House Bill 2549 reads as follows:
Use of an electronic or digital device to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, classification; definition
A. It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use a telephone 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 telephone calls electronic or digital communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the telephone call or calls communications were received.
B. Any offense committed by use of a telephone an electronic or digital device as set forth in this section is deemed to have been committed at either the place where the telephone call or calls communications originated or at the place where the telephone call or calls communications were received.
C. Any person who violates this section is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.
D. For the purposes of this section, “electronic or digital device” includes any wired or wireless communication device and multimedia storage device.
Under House Bill 2549, it would be a crime to communicate via electronic means with the intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend another. It would also be a crime to use electronic means to communicate obscene, lewd or profane language or to suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. Even worse is that Arizona does not define many of the terms identified in the bill, meaning that state officials could define “offensive” as anything they don’t like. As a result, this law could effectively be used to censor any statement that government officials disagree with.
Further, the bill is not limited to one on one conversation between two individuals. The speech does not even need to be unwanted, just “offensive”. The recipient of the communication does not actually need to feel offended, nor must the communication be intended to annoy or offend the reader, the subject of the communication, or any other specific person. As a result, a substantial amount of everyday communication could be deemed “offensive” and censored.
Under the legislation, Rush Limbaugh could have been censored and prosecuted for his recent statements against a Georgetown law student if he intended that his comments were offensive. Many late night talk show hosts could be held criminally responsible for using racy, lewd or otherwise offensive language. Ann Coulter’s books criticising the left could be censored, as could the entire cast of Glee for making statements against the right. The works of any novelist such as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Dan Brown could be censored if their text were found to be “annoying” or “offensive”. All romance novels would definitely be censored for using lewd and lascivious language. All movies with “offensive” language would be censored, as well as electronically stored music, comedy acts, and images. Many political blogs would be censored, along with some media organizations. In short, there is little that this legislation would not cover.
This legislation is yet another move by the government to intrude into and control its citizens everyday lives. Since the legislature conveniently failed to define such ambiguous terms such as “offensive” or “annoying”, it would essentially give the government carte blanche to censor whatever speech the government didn’t like. Not only that, but you could be charged with a CRIME for saying something that big brother doesn’t agree with. Pretty scary.
Whatever happened to “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…” ?