Arizona Passes Sweeping Law Criminalizing Internet Speech

In one of the most sweeping attacks on free speech in America, the Arizona legislature has passed a draconian bill that would criminalize speech on the Internet (“any electronic or digital device”) that prosecutors consider “obscene, lewd or profane language or . . . suggest[ing] a lewd or lascivious act if done with intent to ‘annoy,’ ‘offend,’ ‘harass’ or ‘terrify.’” The law is largely undefined and is in my view facially unconstitutional. The law would drive a stake in the heart of free speech. Yet, people like Bill Clinton have been calling for such a crackdown on Internet speech for years.


The inclusion of terms like “profane” (defined as including “Abusive, vulgar, or irreverent language” in standard dictionaries) is perfectly bizarre. I cannot imagine that the law was put through any serious legal review. The state will end up paying for litigation of this unconstitutional law. Indeed, I am reluctant to quote from the law on this blog in fear of being prosecuted or being charged with the inclusion of something so obscene and profane.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will now have to decide whether to sign this law.

Former president Bill Clinton proposed a law to create what has been denounced as a type of Ministry of Truth for the Internet where officials would monitor the Internet for rumors or untruths. Clinton heralded such a move as “a legitimate thing to do.” He added “it would be like, I don’t know, National Public Radio or BBC or something like that, except it would have to be really independent and they would not express opinions, and their mandate would be narrowly confined to identifying relevant factual errors . . . And also, they would also have to have citations so that they could be checked in case they made a mistake. Somebody needs to be doing it, and maybe it’s a worthy expenditure of taxpayer money.”

The sponsors of this repellant law are Representatives Ted Vogt, Vic Williams, and Chad Campbell. Vogt (shown here) just graduated from the University of Arizona law school in 2010 and has already applied his hand to denying free speech and limiting tort recovery for accident victims. Quite the start for a legislative legacy.

We have long recognized that free speech comes with bad speech and good speech. Yet we have refused to allow the government to sort out those two categories. As Justice Brennan stated in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), we must remain faithful to “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” The addition of an intent factor is meaningless under this law when the mere intent to “annoy” or “harass” is enough to satisfy scienter. The law would sweep away protected speech and allow arbitrary enforcement of terms that are not only undefined but undefinable in the context of Internet speech.

The solution for bad speech is more speech not more regulation of speech.

Source: MCNBC

69 thoughts on “Arizona Passes Sweeping Law Criminalizing Internet Speech”

  1. Some comfort in my earlier nota that the bill making women negotiate with their employers (ie payers of health insurance) on acceptance of women’s matters on “his” plan was DEFEATED.

    Has this hairbrained thing got a positive vote in both houses?
    If so , Brewer will sign, or will she go along with having her emails censored.?

  2. There are liberal dems there who are suffering too.

    So let’s be more specific than Arizona..
    AZPUB? Or other suggestions?

  3. James inLA Mr. Clintoon was unseatednot by the internet but the law. He cannot serve as pres again. (Although I think there has been some debate about serving a new once he has been out of office for at least a term.
    Mr. Clinton, yes the internet certainly helped in getting the nomination to Mr. Obama.
    I am astounded Mr. Clinton suggested this. If he wants a Ministry of Truth let’s first apply it to presidential primaries and elections.
    If the law passes I guess few Arizonians would be willing to post on the internet and Arizona would have to go back to the pre computer days.

  4. DonS
    Tipping point? Which way? Haven’t you noticed the slope got much steeper since autumn 2011——guess they are stil celebrating 9/11.

  5. Haha. Like sifting air molecules for a stink, AZ will have lots of fun deciding who and here and what to censor, never mind how.

    This is some idiot’s April Fool’s joke come to slimy life. FY, Arizona liberals.

  6. When the Judiciary doesn’t do their jobs we all suffer with such draconian laws. However, has not that been the protocol for centuries? Has it not almost always been the high court or their judicial subordinates that have issued the final degrees, acquiesced or maintained a position of complicity towards many of the various atrocities inflicted on mankind by government throughout the ages?
    A country founded on individual rights has just placed into law the NDAA and the National Defense Resources Preparedness Presidential Executive Order. Over the last two hundred and twenty-five years the judiciary has slowly acquiesced or rubber stamped almost the entire usurpation of the Bill of Rights. I suggest that you must look very hard to find an inalienable right still not being usurped. Citizens may be acquitted, but government is still using police force to usurp and challenge our rights and it is getting worse as the current economic challenges continue.
    We have been mislead to believe that government will fix the inequities of our world when it is the institution of government and its controlling oligarchy that are the protagonists. Perhaps they give us crumbs along the way to give up hope and the continued false perceptions, but the end results are clear to all but the naïve and ignorant.
    To solve market problems it can only be solutions that come from the same free markets; such as removing the Judiciary from the claws of politics and government controls of the oligarchy. It is essential to remove the collusion and corruption of government from the justice system. Question the foundation of government in this manner. How can any institution that has for its economic foundation, taxation; the use of force and/or extortion, promote or provide an ethical solution to social problems? Instead it has caused constant conflict over the ages, even to the point of promoting warfare against its own citizens. It has become a conflict between those who reap the benefits of taxation against those that produce the profits to afford such taxation and the beneficiaries have the guns and police power.
    I will not provide you the specifics but there is a way in which to create a free market judicial system that allows for greater direct democratic determination to take back the control of the rule of law from the oligarchy. It will not be without imperfections but it cannot be any worse then what we have.

  7. Bettykath, they keep information like that in a logic-tight box. Waterproof, fireproof and probably nuke proof.

  8. Elaine M. 1, April 3, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Would the bill only criminalize the Internet speech of Arizonians? Arizona doesn’t have jurisdiction over citizens of other states
    =============================

    I don’t think the Arizona legislature knows that. Should we tell them?

  9. Also from Ted Vogt’s page:

    “While in law school, Ted remained heavily involved in Homeland and National Security matters. During the summer of 2008, Ted worked on Homeland Security issues for the Office of the Vice President. In 2009, Ted clerked for Senator Jon Kyl on the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., as well as for the Criminal Division within the United States Attorney’s Office in Tucson.”

    Bet he worked for Cheney, too. -mespo

    Yep.

  10. Yeah, that’s some resume there, mespo. Money changer, pimp and assistant torturer/war criminal will clearly get you a job anywhere the people responsible for hiring aren’t really paying attention or are easily distracted by shiny objects.

  11. From Ted Vogt’s webpage:

    “Prior to entering the Air Force in 2000, Ted spent time in the private sector as an investment banker, advertising executive, and as executive assistant to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”

    Quite the accolade. Bet he worked for Cheney, too.

  12. Of course Bill Clinton wants to muffle the internet. It helped unseat him and his wife in 2008. Macaca forever changed politics, but most pols still think it’s the Age of Paper. Sgt. Howdy Doody here has no business dictating what is or is not free speech. This law will be vacated if passed.

  13. I guess they could outsource the censorship monitoring to China. I understand the Chinese government is quite good at it.

  14. I want to know just how this mechanism for censoring the intertoobz is going to work when the cables and satellite signals hit the Arizona state line.

    Are they going to let the notes through from all those distraught Nigerian widows and bankers who all want to send me $23,000,000?

  15. Oh, lest I forget. If I understand this bill correctly, the State of Arizona can put me in jail for my writings on the Internet, but they can’t stop me from carrying a handgun in public. Disgusting.

  16. Would the bill only criminalize the Internet speech of Arizonians? Arizona doesn’t have jurisdiction over citizens of other states

  17. This legislation from the brain dead state of Arizona is just one more example that the crazies have taken over the Republican Party. From American Taliban policies against women to censoring or criminalizing our freedom to speech.

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