Rhode Island Attorney General Pushes Yet Another Terrible Cybercrime Bill

from the narrowly-written-legislation-is-a-criminal's-best-friend-(apparently) dept

In what appears to be an annual tradition in Rhode Island politics, legislators (and the state Attorney General) are pinging the First Amendment to see if any new loopholes have developed since the end of the last legislative session. And, of course, it’s being done to save the cyberchildren from internet nastiness. (via Overlawyered)

Social media posts, sexually explicit or otherwise, that cause someone’s online embarrassment or insult, would become crimes under a set of bills being advanced by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.

Supposedly, the target is cyber-harassment. But the bill’s wording is far, far, far too broad.

Unlike current state “cyber-stalking” laws, which require police to prove a pattern of harassing behavior, someone could be prosecuted under the new Kilmartin bill for a single post if at least two others pile on with “separate non-continuous acts of unconsented contact” with the victim. The original post would have to be made with the intent to cause emotional distress and be expected to cause distress in a “reasonable person.”

Note the “unconsented contact.” Rather than limiting itself to the non-consensual posts of an explicit nature (itself problematic without extensive exceptions), the bill would apparently require messengers to ask permission before delivering any message that might be construed as offensive.

A person shall not post a message to any other person, through the use of any medium of communication, including the Internet or a computer, computer program, computer system, or computer network, or other electronic medium of communication, without the intended recipient’s consent, if all of the following apply:

(1) The person knows or has reason to know that posting the message could cause two (2) or more separate non-continuous acts of unconsented contact with the recipient;

(2) Posting the message is intended to cause conduct that would make the intended recipient feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested;

(3) Conduct arising from posting the message would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress and to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested; and

(4) Conduct arising from posting the message causes the intended recipient to suffer emotional distress and to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.

So, having to obtain permission to send messages someone might take the wrong way is Kilmartin’s hamfisted way of dealing with online harassment. This changes social media interactions from “I don’t want you to get mad, but… ” to “I don’t want you to press charges, but…” with $1000 and up to a year in jail awaiting the person who fails to receive the go-ahead to send something distressing.

The ‘two or more separate non-continuous acts” language is there to close the loophole in the anti-cyberstalking law — something that has apparently bothered the AG ever since that badly-written law was abused by law enforcement.

There also seems to be some extraterritorial action built into the legislative proposal.

A person may be prosecuted in this state for violating or attempting to violate this section only if one of the following applies:

(1) The person posts the message while in this state;
(2) Conduct arising from posting the message occurs in this state;
(3) The intended recipient is present in this state at the time the offense or any element of the offense occurs; or
(4) The person posting the message knows that the intended recipient resides in this state.

Note that only one of these needs to apply for charge to be brought, so out-of-state residents who may not even know of the law’s existence can be prosecuted for violating it.

And then there’s the whole “unconsented contact” wording, which makes simple existence practically impossible if one were so inclined to take the legislation at its word(s).

Unconsented contact includes any of the following:

(i) Following or appearing within sight of the victim;
(ii) Approaching or confronting the intended recipient in a public place or on private property;
(iii) Appearing at the intended recipient’s workplace or residence;
(iv) Entering onto or remaining on property owned, leased, or occupied by the intended recipient;
(v) Contacting the intended recipient by telephone;
(vi) Sending mail, or electronic communications to the intended recipient through the use of any medium, including the Internet, a computer, computer program, computer system, or computer network; or
(vii) Placing an object on, or delivering or having delivered an object on, property owned, leased, or occupied by the intended recipient

It’s a restraining order, but without the in-writing, signed-by-the-court, legally-binding paperwork! All anyone must do is “express” their desire to be left alone and everything else following that violates the law. This remains true even if the person takes steps to avoid contact (“appearing within sight“) or triggers the Grover Cleveland Clause (“two non-consecutive occasions“).

The ACLU of Rhode Island is opposing the bill, just like it has during past attempts to push this through. One would hope cooler (and more Constitutional) heads will prevail during the legislative process, but cooler heads are often in short supply when issues like “cybercrime” are discussed.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Rhode Island Attorney General Pushes Yet Another Terrible Cybercrime Bill”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
30 Comments
MikeC (profile) says:

So if the state rep who is pushing this sends me a unsolicited email,IE a fund raising email or other stupid update email, that I find objectionable, to start this, I reply back to that email that I don’t want to be contacted again.

Now I show up outside of the capital building as he walks out – bingo I am in sight, he’s violated the law and can be arrested right?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Without Reservation

I have a message for the legislators and the Attorney General of the state of Rhode Island that will most certainly be considered unconsented, and send it without even considering asking their permission. In fact they might find it downright anti-social, or derogatory, or demeaning, or metaphorically representing them as having carnal relations with small animals more often than they think proper.

I am hoping that a large number of denizens of the Internetz will join me in sending our thoughts and feelz and maybe even unabashed considerations of the unnatural nature of their person-hoods.

Groaker (profile) says:

Empire building

I can only assume that the legislators and prosecutors in Rhode Island either do not have enough to do, or they want an excuse to hire more subordinates.

There is no magic on the web. An insult make there is no different than one made upon the street except for duration of the insult or how wide spread it becomes, which is not necessarily to a greater audience, and likely of short lifespan than any such embarrassment made in print.

Anonymous Coward says:

Looks good to me....

if this silly law actually passes, then it almost automatically causes all the future laws the idiots pass to be in violation of the law. Heck, even this law is in and of itself a violation of itself.

For instance, look at the paragraph 3 of the intended law

(3) Conduct arising from posting the message would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress and to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested; and

I know I would sure feel intimidated and threatened by such a law and therefore under this proposed law, the legislators who made the proposal are in violation of it.

Think of wonderful side effect of having all the legislators jailed as they propose idiotic laws…..

Anonymous Coward says:

The whole basis of bad laws like this is that those writing them expect to be treated as exempt from it.

If there was not a two tiered justice system and kangaroo courts then there would be incentive for them to write good laws. Since they would never face repurcussions of their actions what do they care how it affects the serfs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Evidently,these law makers have never been on a campus lately. A place for the continuously offended to be. What an eye opener this will be should the attorney general for Rhode Island show up on campus for a speech. He’ll find at some point he has not only offended but remains within eyesight as he does his speech.

Sweet justice in the clouds that provide a silver lining.

Anonymous Coward says:

They might want to check the wording on that...

“A person may be prosecuted in this state for violating or attempting to violate this section only if one of the following applies:

(1) The person posts the message while in this state;
(2) Conduct arising from posting the message occurs in this state;
(3) The intended recipient is present in this state at the time the offense or any element of the offense occurs; or
(4) The person posting the message knows that the intended recipient resides in this state.”

Great! If two or more of these apply then you can’t be prosecuted!

ThatDevilTech (profile) says:

Re: They might want to check the wording on that...

shhhh….don’t tell them they have a loophole…they might try to close it so the citizens actually get arrested. But woe to the one that tries to use this law against one of them, that will be the first thing they point out….”I didn’t break that law because I was in the state and it stirred up my constituents in the state” or some stupid comment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Louisiana Has a Version of This Law Too

http://mediacoalition.org/garden-district-book-shop-v-stewart/

Basically in Louisiana, you cannot post anything online that could be “harmful to minors”. If you intend to post “harmful” material, you must age-gate everything and keep records of who visits your posts.

Someone ping the ACLU about Rhode Island joining Louisiana in bad internet bills.

That One Guy (profile) says:

For the 'kids', whether classified by age or maturity

Of course the real funny part is that actual kids, the ‘victims in need of protection’ by laws such as this tend to have much thicker skin than the politicians proposing such laws. Kids can deal with ‘harsh language’ and criticism, it’s the politicians that tend to get so offended by simple language when people point out their idiocy on various topics.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »