Criminally Annoying

CNet has an interesting column by Declan McCullagh. He warns (or promises) that “annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime”. At first I thought this could be a bad news/good news. Although it sounds like more outrageous government meddling, I can think of some annoying people that I wouldn’t mind having locked up under the new law.

A closer look at McCullagh’s story, and the cited law, shows that it’s not quite that simple. As he goes on to say: “President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.” So you can only have people arrested for annoying you if they do it anonymously. Then further reading says it prohibits anyone from using the Internet “without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy.” So the intent to annoy has to be there. Some of the folks that annoy me the most have no clue they’re annoying, which makes them immune.

Seriously, although the law isn’t as bad as McCullagh’s lead-in suggests, it does appear to be a little too broad. It’s in a section titled “Preventing Cyberstalking,” which may be a worthy goal. But, as written, it doesn’t seem to make any distinction between serious threats and immature jerks with cutesy screen names needling each other on a bulletin board.

But, just to be safe, if anyone is annoyed by anything I’ve written here, I didn’t intend to annoy you, and my name is Matt Simpson.

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