On August 2nd of this year, a new Arizona Internet Stalking Law, House Bill 2549, went into effect, joining 24 other states that have already crafted essential changes to communication laws.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:
• 24 states have cyberstalking and cyber harassment laws,
• 10 states have only cyberstalking laws, and
• 13 have only cyber harassment laws.
The remaining states have laws that are outdated and fail to address the internet and other electronic communication. Some people disagree with the Arizona Internet Stalking Law, arguing that it violates the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
But, I feel that this is an issue that needs to be addressed by those states that haven’t amended current laws or created new laws.
The primary reason for amending these current laws is the need to revise specific harassment and stalking crimes in which electronic communication is being utilized. Let’s take a look at H.B. 2549, there are a few points that will help identify both sides of the argument. In summary, H.B. 2549 is as follows:
In Sec 2., Section 13-2923, ARS, stalking is defined and classified as follows: “A person commits stalking if the person intentionally or knowingly engages in a course of conduct that is directed toward another person and if their conduct either: would cause a reasonable person to fear for the persons safety (sec A paragraph 1), or would cause a reasonable person to fear death (sec a paragraph 2)”. The statute goes on to state that Sec A paragraph 12 is a class 5 felony, and section A paragraph 2 is a class 3 felony. Within this section, course of conduct means any of the following: maintaining physical proximity to a specific person or directing verbal, written or other threats, whether express or implied, to a specific person on two or more occasions over a period of time.
Section 13-2916, is amended to read “Use of an electronic or digital device to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend; classification; definition.”
On August 2nd 2012, those using electronic communication to express “terrifying, threatening, harassing, annoying or offending,” will be in violation of Section 1. A.S. 13-2916 and subject to a class 1 misdemeanor.Anyone can verbalize something stupid by voicing their opinion via social media, texting, or using smartphones. The First Amendment protects our freedom of “opinion” by speech. However, using electronic communication in order to “terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend,” should not be protected by free speech and the First Amendment.
David Horowitz, Executive Director of the Media Coalition, opposes H.B. 2549. Back in March of this year, on behalf of the Media Coalition, Horowitz sent Arizona Governor Jan Brewer a letter requesting the Governor protect the First Amendment rights of all the people of Arizona and to please veto the bill.
Their argument is detailed in the letter and cites various court cases. One of those cases, Texas v. Johnson, states,” If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” 491 U.S. 397, (1989) A few other examples of concurring cases include Free Speech Coalition v. Ashcroft, 535 U.S. at 245 (2002) (“It is also well established that speech may not be prohibited because it concerns subjects offending our sensibilities.”); FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U. S. 726, 745 (1978) (“The fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it”); Carey v. Population Services Int’l, 431 U. S. 678, 701 (1977) (“The fact that protected speech may be offensive to some does not justify its suppression”).
These cases discuss issues irrelevant to the bill and cyber-stalking. These cases discuss filthy words on radio, speech offending our sensibilities, or speech that is offensive.
If you look at the top of the letter addressed to Governor Brewer, it shows that the Media Coalition consists of Publishers, Entertainment Associations, Recording Industry and the Motion Picture Association. Are Mr. Horowitz and the Media Coalition more concerned with protecting violent video games, movies, and music?
This bill is not about movies, books, or music. This bill is about those cowardly acts by persons who feel invincible by using “an electronic or digital device to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend; classification; definition.”
The wording may never be precise enough for those opposed to or for a specific statute. Free speech is protected by the First Amendment. Being stalked or threatened, or fearing for your life due to someone else’s actions deserves to be protected as well.
Dennis Schmid is a married father of 3 living in Mesa, Arizona. Dennis works full-time for the leader in Identity Theft Protection and has first-hand knowledge of what society needs to protect families and businesses from cyber-attacks and identity theft.