Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Intent to annoy

Apparantly, the US has passed a law making it a criminal offence to use the internet to annoy someone without disclosing your identity - on pain of up to two year's jail. While the law could be used to target serious online harassment, given its bredeth, it is far more likely to be used to punish perfectly legitimate but unwelcome speech from anonymous sources. Declan McCullagh lists some of the possibilities:

A woman fired by a manager who demanded sexual favors wants to blog about it without divulging her full name. An aspiring pundit hopes to set up the next Suck.com. A frustrated citizen wants to send e-mail describing corruption in local government without worrying about reprisals.

In each of those three cases, someone's probably going to be annoyed. That's enough to make the action a crime.

And of course, there's the other obvious source of annoyance: political opinions, such as those you see on this blog.

Needless to say, I have no intention of complying. As I've said repeatedly before, there is no right not to be offended. As John Stuart Mill so famously said,

the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.

Annoying someone is not "harm" by any stretch of the imagination, and so suppression of merely annoying behaviour is unjustified. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for the inevitable Supreme Court decision to return the US to sanity...