There is an interesting case developing in Florida where Robert Brayshaw is facing a year in jail under a law that makes it a crime to post a local police officer’s phone number and address. The law raises serious constitutional questions under the first amendment. Brayshaw posted the information on a site called ratemycop.
His prosecution was thrown out under a violation of the state’s speedy trial provision, but he is now challenging the law itself for good reason. The law criminalizes any publication of the information in any form.
The statute, Fla. Stat. 843.17, states:
843.17 Publishing name and address of law enforcement officer.–Any person who shall maliciously, with intent to obstruct the due execution of the law or with the intent to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt any law enforcement officer in the legal performance of his or her duties, publish or disseminate the residence address or telephone number of any law enforcement officer while designating the officer as such, without authorization of the agency which employs the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
The language is remarkably vague and sweeping. It would presumably cover everything from passing a note to taking out an ad in the New York Times. The use of words like “hinder” and “interrupt” are highly questionable in such a law limiting speech. Finally, if this is public information, it is unclear how you criminalize it being shared with other members of the public.
In Brayshaw’s case, he published comments about Tallahassee Police Officer Annette Garrett with her name and home address. He complained that she was rude to him when investigating a trespass call at an apartment complex where he is the manager. He was arrested and spent a night in jail in May 2008. What is amazing is that prosecutors went as far as to subpoena records from Ratemycop and the defendant’s ISP. The case is an example of how confidential information on the Internet is now subject to the most trivial or questionable claims from government offices. The prosecutors demanded the information even though Garrett’s information appears on the Leon County Clerk of the Court’s website in Florida.
Thecase of Brayshaw v. City of Tallahassee was filed September 18, 2009.
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