Arizona Capitol

Internet Trolls Can Breathe Easy for a Minute -- HB 2549 Has Been Stopped

Arizona's House Bill 2549, which was labeled by one critic as a "bill to censor electronic speech," has been stopped, according to one of the bill's sponsors.

As we've already mentioned twice before, the bill was never transferred to the governor, contrary to the numerous media reports saying it has. The bill was amended before it passed the Senate, meaning it was returned to the House -- where it's apparently been stopped.

State Representative Vic Williams tells New Times that legislators have received quite a bit of "legitimate concerns" -- and illegitimate concerns -- about the bill, and Representative Ted Vogt has stopped the bill from moving forward so everyone can figure it out.

Williams says the actual intent of the bill is not to throw Internet trolls in jail -- the intent was to protect people from harassment and stalking, and defend people's privacy.

"We believed we were moving forward in good faith," Williams says.

The bill was not exactly interpreted that way by others.

The Media Coalition, one of the biggest critics of the bill, has been citing one of the proposed changes to current statute, which calls for prohibiting the use of "any electronic or digital device, instead of a telephone, with the intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend a person."

"H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people," the group wrote in a memo to Governor Jan Brewer. "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."

Williams says he spoke to Media Coalition executive director David Horowitz for quite a bit today about the bill, and says he's willing to work with them for some input on the bill.

Williams says the group has been "very clear" about what they don't like about the bill, but adds, "I'm looking to them to see if they can help us be part of the solution."

The bill, Williams explains, is part of a push by legislators to update old statutes so they're still relevant with changing technology.

The statute this bill would amend deals with annoying, threatening, or harassing people over the phone.

The proposed bill replaces references to "telephone" with "electronic or digital communications," but to the critics, that makes it a whole new ballgame, since phone use isn't quite the same as online communication.

Williams says legislators are still attempting to use the bill to protect people from harassment, he says lawmakers are cooking up their own amendments and consulting with people at the attorney general's office and similar folks to prevent another scare about Internet censorship.

It seems Williams may have changed his stance a little bit from yesterday, when he commented on this blog and on his website in defense of the bill as proposed.

He still contends there are some "conspiracy theorists" coming out of the woodwork on this one. He wasn't too specific about the "black helicopter crowd," but says they're "not helping move a critical issue forward."

Still, Williams says he's very receptive to the input that doesn't involve chemtrails and Orwellian conspiracy theories, and we'll update you with whatever the legislators decide to do with the bill.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley