Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Arizona, the Dry County of Free Speech

Article first published as Arizona, the Dry County of Free Speech on Technorati.



Arizona, Here we go again...      

With all the decorum of a bar fight, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was captured wagging a finger in the face of President Obama last January.  Less than 6 months later we now have the conservative state legislature presenting the Governor with a bill that has the potential to censor Internet speech
Proposed as an anti-bullying measure added to current stalking legislation, HB 2549 now on the Governor's desk states...

 Use of an electronic or digital device to terrify,  intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend;

Opponents of the bill cite a dangerous ambiguity concerning the terms "annoy or offend" which would empower the state to function as a de-facto censor for all forms of communication deemed offensive or annoying.  That includes the Internet with the penalty being a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

It should be noted that the original text of the bill cited "telephone call" as the protected medium but was struck and replaced simply with the terms "Communications" and "Electronic or Digital Device."  As with SOPA/PIPA this may be another example of government misunderstanding the effect of their legislation on the medium and the First Amendment in general.  If passed Arizona could become a virtual "dry county" for free speech.
The bill's relatively short length (1.5 pages) fails to define the scope or moderating agency responsible for enforcement which potentially leaves it's interpretation broad, ambiguous and subjective.  With such a measure signed into law, opposing political and social viewpoints could be curtailed by simply claiming they are offensive or annoying. 

Proponents cite the need for broadening the stalking provisions of the current statute to protect individuals online from bullying.

Perhaps the most amusing outcome should the Governor sign the bill into law is the ability to censor the speech of any individual or group deemed offensive or annoying.  That includes the Governor herself as her wagging finger could be deemed offensive.