Nuggets of Wisdom

Friday, June 10, 2011

Constitution Obsolete In Tennessee?

When I read headlines like Tenn. law bans posting images that "cause emotional distress", I tend to laugh, thinking it’s a story from The Onion.

A new Tennessee law makes it a crime to "transmit or display an image" online that is likely to "frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress" to someone who sees it. Violations can get you almost a year in jail time or up to $2500 in fines.
Then I realize it’s a real news story, and I continue laughing—because otherwise I would cry.

The ban on distressing images, which was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam last week, is also an update to existing law. Tennessee law already made it a crime to make phone calls, send emails, or otherwise communicate directly with someone in a manner the sender "reasonably should know" would "cause emotional distress" to the recipient. If the communciation lacked a "legitimate purpose," the sender faced jail time.

The new legislation adds images to the list of communications that can trigger criminal liability. But for image postings, the "emotionally distressed" individual need not be the intended recipient. Anyone who sees the image is a potential victim. If a court decides you "should have known" that an image you posted would be upsetting to someone who sees it, you could face months in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.
So if you live in Tennessee, and you post a picture on MySpace or DeviantART that someone finds “emotionally distressing” according to their own personal standards, you could be arrested and facing jail time.

Give me a break!

The First Amendment is supposed to protect all speech, especially the most unpopular. After all, if all speech were popular, the First Amendment wouldn’t have to exist in the first place.

Everyone has a right to post whatever images they want online, even if some namby-pamby sissy boy finds it “emotionally distressing.” (Oops! I wonder if that will cause someone emotional distress? Good thing I live in Florida!)

But, oh wait, it gets even worse:

Another provision of the legislation governs law enforcement access to the contents of communications on social networking sites. The government can get access to "images or communications" posted to a social networking site by offering "specific and articulable facts," suggesting that the information sought is "relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation."
Yep! This legislation also doubles as a Tennessee version of the Patriot Act, allowing law enforcement to check your Facebook or MySpace pages—even if they’re in private, and without your permission—if they think the material is “relevant” to a criminal investigation.

So not only does it infringe on our First Amendment rights, it also infringes on our Fourth Amendment rights.

Gee, Tennessee, why not just shove the entire Bill of Rights through the shredder, you bunch of toothless inbred hicks! (And I hope that causes someone emotional distress!)