Proposed congressional legislation would demand up to two years in prison for those whose electronic speech is meant to “coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.”
The proposal by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Los Angeles, would never pass First Amendment muster, unless the U.S. Constitution was altered without us knowing. So Sanchez, and the 14 other lawmakers who signed on to the proposal, are grandstanding to show the public they care about children and are opposed to cyberbullying.
The meaasure, H.R. 1966, is labeled the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act. It’s designed to target the behavior that led to last year’s suicide of the 13-year-old Meier.
In response to Meier’s suicide, prosecutors turned to an anti-hacking statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and prosecuted Lori Drew. She was accused of violating MySpace’s terms of service agreement in what prosecutors said was a complex conspiracy to harass Meier via a fake MySpace online profile.
The judge presiding over the case is weighing a motion to nullify the jury’s verdict on allegations the authorities failed to prove Drew knew the MySpace terms of service existed — allegations that would be mooted had Drew been prosecuted under Sanchez’s proposal. Drew’s case was the nation’s first cyberbullying prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Sanchez’s bill goes way beyond cyberbullying and comes close to making it a federal offense to log onto the internet or use the telephone. The methods of communication where hostile speech is banned include e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones and text messages.
We can’t say what we think of Sanchez’s proposal. Doing so would clearly get us two years in solitary confinement.
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.