Oct 042010
 
 October 4, 2010  Laws, Online

Eugene Volokh comments on a bill proposed in New Jersey that would purportedly strengthen laws concerning invasion of privacy:

[…]

[A] person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, … [the person]:a. Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or otherwise, or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;

b. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or

c. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.

A communication under subsection a. of this section includes, but is not limited to, the posting of a photographic images or other descriptive material on an Internet website, or the sending of a telephonic message, electronic mail, text message or similar type of electronic message or communication, by means of an electronic communication device. “Electronic communication device” includes, but is not limited to, a telephone, cellular telephone, computer, computer network, computer system, video recorder, facsimile machine or pager. A communication under subsection a. may be deemed to have been made either at the place where it originated or at the place where it was received.

The existing harassment statute was already flawed, it seems to me; but at least such statutes have generally been seen as focusing on speech said to a particular unwilling listener, and leaving people free to talk to the world at large. This proposal would make clear that speech to the public about a person is now a crime (albeit a petty one) if it is said “with purpose to harass another” and is “likely to cause annoyance.” So if I publicly harshly condemn Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf, Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, and Sen. Christopher J. Connors, then I could be a criminal if a prosecutor and a judge conclude that my speech is “likely to cause annoyance” and was said “with purpose to harass another.” Likewise if I post annoying comments criticizing a New Jersey journalist, or a New Jersey actor or sports figure or whoever else.

This strikes me as quite wrong, and unconstitutionally so.

Read more on The Volokh Conspiracy.

Well, I did warn against knee-jerk reactions…. they tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  When the baby is the First Amendment, we need to be more careful, no?

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