Recently, Arizona passed a law that shows they do not understand the difference between a technology designed for mostly one-to-one communication (the telephone) and technology used for one-to-many communication (social media). Granted, it can be really difficult to understand the difference if you just see those young whippersnappers on those newfangled smartphones and you’re told they’re using an Internet or browsing the Facebook. Technology really peaked at the typewriter with correcting tape, right Arizona?
But for the rest of the world, we understand the difference. That’s why it’s difficult to imagine that Arizona really thought through the implications of their recent passed law (still pending signature by the Governor). The original law deals with harassing phone calls and includes this prohibition:
It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use a telephone and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous telephone calls the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the telephone call or calls were received.
While everyone loves the First Amendment, almost nobody loves harassing phone calls. They wake us up, they’re disturbing, and depending on the content they can really frighten someone. Phone calls may not be a person standing at your front door, but it’s pretty close. This kind of law can be found in virtually every state.
The recent changes, however, make this law much broader. The marked-up language shows some significant changes. Here’s how the new prohibition would read (changes marked in bold):
It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use
a telephoneany electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous telephone callselectronic or digital communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the telephone call or callscommunications were received.
That first sentence is the problem. By confusing a telephone call, which can be far more intimate and intrusive, with any electronic device, the entirety of social media is brought into the realm of this law. So if you post something intending to annoy someone and you use some profane language, you’re breaking this new law.
Look, Arizona, we understand that people can be harassed via texts or other medium. But telephones and any electronic or digital device aren’t substitutes. Telephones had a limited world of functionality–calling people. Sure, you could add some call holding or party lines or hold music, but it doesn’t change the central function. Electronic or digital devices, such as computers and smartphones and tablets and video game consoles and networked media players, have a lot more functionality. So you can’t impose the same restrictions without repercussions.
Heck, there are even networked cars now. Which I’m pretty sure would make honking your car horn illegal in Arizona. Sounds like a good thing, but it isn’t.