April 2, 2012 at 6:30 PM ET
The state of Arizona could find itself in the company of countries like China and Syria for censoring the Internet if the state's governor signs a bill recently passed by the legislature.
Arizona House Bill 2549, which is now on Gov. Jan Brewer's desk for signature, was created to counter bullying and stalking. The law would make it a crime to use any electronic or digital device to communicate using "obscene, lewd or profane language" or to suggest a lewd or lascivious act, if done with the intent to "terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend."
First Amendment rights group Media Coalition, which represents the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Association of American Publishers and other related groups, says the bill is not only a violation of the First Amendment, but is so far-ranging as to be preposterous.
In a letter to the governor, the coalition said while government can criminalize speech "that rises to the level of harassment, and many states have laws that do so," Arizona's legislation:
... takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on web sites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication. H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person.
This bill isn't the first the legislature has tackled when it comes to regulating what's said -- or seen -- electronically. Another, Senate Bill 1219, would let parents see the text messages on the phones of their children, if they're under the age of 18. That legislation remains in committee.
H.B. 2549 "would apply to the Internet as a whole, thus criminalizing all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying," Media Coalition says on its website -- at least for now, until what it says is found to be offensive or annoying by those in Arizona.