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Arizona bill makes it illegal to 'annoy or offend' online

Rough-and-ready westerners or dainty shrinking violets?

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Updated The Arizona legislature has passed a bill that makes it illegal to annoy anyone over the internet.

You think we're joking? The Reg – solid and stolid defender of all that is right and true – does not joke about matters of such import. Check it out:

It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use 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.

"Threaten to inflict physical harm"? Sure. "Terrify"? Well, rather subjective, but we'll let it pass. But "annoy or offend"? To quote that paragon of personal freedom and unbridled expression, Captain James Hook, "No, bicarbonate of soda, no!"

Some may argue that Arizona House Bill 2549, if signed by that state's governor Jan Brewer – she of the Obama finger-pointing and campaign-debate brain freeze – will transform online forums throughout The Grand Canyon State into havens of civility and enlightened discourse. We, however, disagree. If the bill is signed and somehow enforced, online gathering places will more likely become depopulated.

House Bill 2549 is a reworking of an earlier bill that was created during the telephone age, and replaces the original bill's wording of "to use a telephone" with the new text, "to use any electronic or digital device". The earlier bill was passed when communication was a one-to-one affair, and such protections – if somewhat o'er-reaching – were defendable.

The new bill, however, arrives at a time when communication is both anonymous and one-to-many. Here at The Reg, for example, our beloved commentards have been known to annoy one another – or even we thick-skinned Reg writers – with what might occasionally be deemed an intemperate remark or two. Or three. Or four.

But if Governor Brewer should choose to sign House Bill 2549, would our forums' feisty fulminators face the wrath of "America's Sherrif", Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, because of a digital dust-up in which one commentard commented that another commentor was a fathead?

Let's hope not. America's courthouses are jammed as it is. ®

Update

In response to complaints from, well, sane folks, Arizona's "annoy or offend" bill will be revised. The primary sponsor of the bill, Arizona state Representative Ted Vogt, told The Huffington Post that legislators plan to amend it before sending it to Governor Jan Brewer for her consideration.

Co-sponsor Representative Steve Farley, however, defended the impetus behind the bill, telling HuffPo: "I know people are focusing on unintended consequences of the bill, but I don't think that's realistic. I think this is a wakeup call that we should be civil online and in society in general."

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