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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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 14 Mar 2017 @ 7:41am

    There's the old saying: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

    Testing whether it could be abused should be standard practice before approving such laws. But I suspect it would go like that : "But we wouldn't abuse it so it's a-ok."

    Until the next Tyrant (with a T *wink*) comes in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2017 @ 9:24am

      Re:

      "There's the old saying: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

      I like to say iced instead... cause that shit be slippery yo!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 14 Mar 2017 @ 8:41am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    timmaguire42 (profile), 14 Mar 2017 @ 8:49am

    Given that most politicians have a legal background, it's remarkable how many laws get passed without much thought to the legal implications.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 14 Mar 2017 @ 8:56am

      Re:

      No, laws get passed with a LOT of thought to the legal billable hours they will produce.

      Lawyers helping Lawyers

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2017 @ 9:27am

        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).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rick, 14 Mar 2017 @ 9:12am

    Call me crazy

    Perhaps there is language in the bill to get around this but wouldn't just about any newspaper article posted to the paper's website violate this law?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rick, 14 Mar 2017 @ 9:17am

      Re: Call me crazy

      Edit: ...just about any newspaper article about a person...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2017 @ 9:29am

        Re: Re: Call me crazy

        The loop hole is the "Intent".

        Which makes thought crime possible, and that is all this is. Though Crime, which makes the law and its enforcement even more nebulous and prone to "opinions of the moment".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2017 @ 9:27am

    We already have way to many laws. TO keep busy they keep on passing dumb laws. I say for any new one they want to pass, they should remove 3 old laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2017 @ 10:07am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Who, Me?, 14 Mar 2017 @ 9:29am

    More on morons

    Similar to idiotic legislators who recently attempted to draft laws to prohibit "nature" photography recently, on a federal level. Fortunately, this bit of insanity was, for a change, allowed to expire due to lack of support.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 14 Mar 2017 @ 11:40am

      Re: More on morons

      Please provide details.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Who Knew?, 14 Mar 2017 @ 3:54pm

        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?)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          btr1701 (profile), 15 Mar 2017 @ 10:31am

          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).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2017 @ 9:54am

    How does this mesh with them posting mugshots? Since the primary reason to post them is harrassment (they can claim transparency all they want but that is bs)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Mar 2017 @ 12:38pm

      Re:

      The “intent” is the key. Mugshots are not posted with the intent to “open up harassment”, but rather to “inform the public” — therefore mugshots posted on news sites (and police websites) are perfectly legal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 14 Mar 2017 @ 11:39am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TechDescartes (profile), 14 Mar 2017 @ 12:22pm

      Re: Jurisdiction

      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.

      Setting aside the First Amendment issue, ever heard of extradition? It happens. All. The. Time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        btr1701 (profile), 15 Mar 2017 @ 10:28am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          TechDescartes (profile), 15 Mar 2017 @ 10:31pm

          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.)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 15 Mar 2017 @ 5:47am

    So I guess people arrested on prostitution charges will now be able to have charges files against the police for publishing their names and/or photos in the papers in an attempt to shame them? Maybe this law is a good idea after all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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