Utah Legislators Want To Outlaw Posting Of People's Pictures And Names With The 'Intent To Harass'

from the if-intent-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder dept

Like many bad laws, I’m sure this bill lying on the Utah governor’s desk has its heart in the right place. But, like many bad laws, its head is completely up its ass. Eugene Volokh reports there’s Yet Another Cyberbullying Bill on the threshold of passage. Like many that have come before it, it’s full of constitutional issues and easily-abusable language.

Here’s Utah SB118, which passed both houses of the legislature unanimously and is awaiting the governor’s signature:

A person is guilty of electronic communication harassment and subject to prosecution in the jurisdiction where the communication originated or was received if with intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, frighten, or disrupt the electronic communications of another, the person: …

(e) electronically publishes, posts, or otherwise discloses personal identifying information of another person, in a public online site or forum, without that person’s permission.

This sounds like it’s meant to deter doxing. But that’s only if you don’t read the section detailing “personal identifying information,” which includes such innocuous items as “names” or “photos.” In between everything else no one should be posting online without that person’s permission (Social Security number, driver’s license number, “electronic identification number,” etc.) are bits of “personal information” that could criminalize a great number of social media posts.

So if someone posts something in Utah that is intended to insult a politician or engages in “excessive and unfounded criticism, humiliation, and denigration” of the politician, that would be a crime — it would be “electronically … post[ing]” “personal identifying information” (the target’s name) without his permission and with the intent to “abuse” (or perhaps “harass,” especially if one does it several times). After all, “personal identifying information” may include a person’s name.

Likewise if someone sharply condemns some government official, indicating the place where the official works (e.g., “Judge X in Courthouse Y is biased and incompetent”). Likewise if someone illustrates an article harshly critical of some official, businessperson, celebrity or anyone else with the person’s photograph.

To their credit, legislators at least trimmed back a bit of the broad language before passage, keeping it from criminalizing posts that merely “annoyed” or “offended” complainants. But what’s left in it still carries huge potential for abuse. And it will be abused if allowed to pass. It won’t protect the hundreds of people who’ve been targeted, harassed, and doxed, but it will give the powerful yet another tool to deploy to shut down critics. It won’t be normal citizens availing themselves of this law first. It will be politicians, government officials, law enforcement officers — basically anyone with more power than skin thickness.

Hopefully, it will be vetoed. But it received support from both sides of Utah’s legislature, and Utah’s government has been known to humor laughable/harmful legislation with alarming frequency. Should it receive the governor’s signature, it will swiftly find itself on the receiving end of a temporary restraining order while the state’s court determines its constitutionality. As written, it’s unlikely to survive this scrutiny.

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Comments on “Utah Legislators Want To Outlaw Posting Of People's Pictures And Names With The 'Intent To Harass'”

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23 Comments
TechDescartes (profile) says:

Motion to Diagram Sentence

…if with intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, frighten, or disrupt the electronic communications of another…

So disrupting the electronic communications of another, that’s technically possible but likely not what they mean to prevent by this bill. But intimidating, abusing, threatening, harassing, or frightening the electronic communications of another? Who knew the Facebook page or Twitter account itself had feelings.

Or did they mean:

if with intent to disrupt the electronic communications of, intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, or frighten another…

Drafting bad legislation is hard work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s not just that, but to also to produce as many criminals as possible.

For the same reason that the FBI likes to bring up everyones porn surfing habits, how many kids someone looked at funny, and why the police don’t want you to look good in a mug shot.

it is all designed from the ground up to be as difficult as possible to get out of any ensnarements brought to you by the inJustice System of America (TM).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

My proposal has always been that before each years legislature session can begin, they have to read through all existing laws first. The problem of excessive laws would solve itself once each member of the body goes horse taking turns reading the existing body of law before they ever get a chance to pass new laws.

Who Knew? says:

Re: Re: More on morons outlawing Nature Photography.

Info posted on Slash Dot or Tech Dirt about a year ago… search their files.

Not hard (well, the Feds don’t make it easy. Not sure if they keep a db re: stupid ideas that fade away due to lack of support, but other means exist unless scrubbed by search engines and other guardians of censorship).

The iconic image of the lone (wind-blown dwarf pine) tree at the beach in Carmel, California has been copyrighted for years. You could not legally photograph that tree. I am not sure if this is still the case (due to the ravages of age/time), but this was at least twenty or more years ago.

Existing (recently passed!) fed laws prohibit photographing farming/ranching operations show abuse to animals and/or other (fill in the blank, as determined by those wishing to hide malfeasance behind bad laws).

Not new.

In Nazi Germany, “citizens” were required by law to provide names/locations/hiding places of targeted persons (aka Jews, etc.) for deportation to slave/death camps). In was a violation of the “law” not to do so. (Remember Anne Frank?)

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: More on morons outlawing Nature Photography.

The iconic image of the lone (wind-blown dwarf pine) tree
> at the beach in Carmel, California has been copyrighted
> for years. You could not legally photograph that tree

Naturally occurring objects can’t be copyrighted. Only the author of a work can hold the copyright on it, and no human was the “author” of that tree. I suppose God could claim copyright on the tree (if said God actually exists).

btr1701 (profile) says:

Jurisdiction

“A person is guilty of electronic communication
harassment and subject to prosecution in the
jurisdiction where the communication originated or was
received if with intent to intimidate…”

Here we apparently have another state that thinks its legislature has the power to bind the whole country to its will.

If I’m a Florida citizen, in Florida, I can to post to the internet without having to worry about whatever crazy laws Utah has passed. Utah can’t tell me what I can and can’t post to the internet, nor can it hold me responsible for violating its nutty laws just because someone in Utah was able to see my post.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Jurisdiction

Setting aside the First Amendment issue, ever heard of extradition?

One can only be extradited for violating a law in the requesting jurisdiction.

In the above example, as a Florida citizen, located in Florida, I am not legally required to follow Utah’s laws, no matter how much Utah may desire otherwise, therefore there’s nothing upon which to base extradition, and my own state’s attorney can’t legally comply with any extradition request from Utah.

TechDescartes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Jurisdiction

You’re right except for the law. Both Florida law (910.005) and Utah law (76-1-201) provide that a person is "subject to prosecution in this state for an offense that she or he commits, while either within or outside the state, by her or his own conduct or that of another for which the person is legally accountable, if: … The conduct outside the state constitutes an attempt to commit an offense within the state."

As a matter of practice, Florida won’t extradite for a first offense under this law because it would be a misdemeanor. Second offenses could be felonies, though, so Florida would extradite. (Again, assuming that the law didn’t so blatantly violate the First Amendment.)

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