The use of a fake MySpace identity by adult neighbors to trick and then crush a young girl (who later committed suicide) has outraged Americans. One possible charge would involve a controversial new law barring internet abuse — a law that is ripe for challenge.As noted in earlier entries, the tragedy of Megan Meier should result in legal action. Click here The parents however appear not inclined to sue though claims of negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and other claims are possible. However, one intriguing possibility is the new federal law prohibiting internet abuse. The new law (passed with little scrutiny in the last Congress) states:
“Whoever…utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet… without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person…who receives the communications…shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”
It is a law that has some obvious flaws that better drafting and a modicum of legal review should have eliminated at the committee drafting stage. A term like “annoy” is a red flag for constitutional challenge for vagueness.The case is worthy of national debate and not just sensational. The alleged destruction of the neighbors lawn by Mr. Meier seems to reflect a sense of no recourse for this horrific act. The law is based on a covenant between citizens and their government: in giving up their right of self-help in such circumstances, the government assures them that justice will be done. Here a girl is dead, neighbors are accused of terrible misconduct, and yet the legal system seems unable to address the loss. This does not appear to be a good criminal case, but a civil case can be brought — even if novel.