Last month, HB2549 on Electronic Communications and Stalking appeared headed for easy passage until national free speech advocacy organization, Media Coalition caught wind of it and legal analysts pointed out the chilling impact the bill, as it read at the time, would have had on free speech on the internet.
Fortunately, sponsors put the brakes on and some thoughtful consideration ensued. About two weeks ago, a conference committee with members from both the House and Senate was appointed. On Monday, the conference committee reported, recommending amendments to the Senate engrossed version of the original bill.
The recommended amendments to HB2549 appear to limit the scope of the bill by removing the more general "annoy or offend" and indicating harassment etc. by electronic communication is a Class 1 misdemeanor if directed to a specific person or persons, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass, direct any obscene, lewd or profane act to the person in an electronic communication, threaten to inflict physical harm to any person or property in said electronic communication.
It also makes it unlawful to otherwise disturb someone by repeated anonymous, unwanted or unsolicited electronic communication.
However, new language also specifies that this does not apply to any Constitutionally protected speech or activity or any other activity authorized by law.
For the purposes of this section, it goes on, "electronic communication means a wire line, cable, wireless or cellular telephone call, a text message, an instant message or electronic mail."
If this law is enacted, a person convicted of a violation would be subject to up to 6 months imprisonment and a $2,500 fine.
One might wonder what kind of cacophony will be set off if this bill is enacted as it now reads. Surely somebody will try to push the limits such that law enforcement will be put in a position to at least try to do something to enforce it. Have you ever heard the expression, "fuck off and die?" Is that specific enough? Well, maybe or maybe not. A very quick internet search turned up a music group (metal band) by the name of Fuck Off and Die.
How much litigation will ensue to sort out the ambiguities that will certainly surface?
This could be among the more noble pursuits the Arizona Legislature has embarked upon this session, as cyber-bullying and stalking can be a real problem.
Anyway, I've requested feedback from advocacy groups and when I hear from them, I expect to update this post.