We've been noticing a trend of various states attempting to pass laws against being a jerk online -- with a particular distaste for anonymous jerks. But it seems that Rhode Island is taking it to new levels. Via Copycense
, we learn that Rhode Island is pushing forward with a broadly written law (for the children, of course!), which would let police get names and other identifying information from service providers for online speech
that they find to be "offensive" or harassing, without requiring that it go through a judge for a warrant first. Technically, the bill
allows for law enforcement to issue an "administrative subpoena" on such issues, rather than having to get a judge-approved warrant. While much of the bill is targeted at uncovering those involved in child porn, it uses that fact to mask the broad powers this gives to law enforcement to uncover who's behind all kinds of anonymous speech, without any consideration for the First Amendment protections
for anonymous speech. This kind of law seems ripe for abuse by law enforcement, and the ACLU notes that Rhode Island law enforcement has already been known to seek this kind of info under questionable reasons:
Fears about the scope of this bill are not exaggerated. In the past year, there have been two highly publicized incidents of police seeking to track down the posters of comments posted online about political figures. Last fall,
the Rhode Island ACLU called on Narragansett's Police Chief to drop criminal “cyberstalking” charges lodged against two town residents in separate incidents. Under this bill, police could unilaterally issue subpoenas to obtain the information.