Thursday, June 09, 2011

Tennessee bans posting any offensive images online

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Fainting lady: “Oh! My delicate, precious nerves! Don’t make me clutch my pearls”
Pictured: Can now sue you in Tennessee
[full size (320×252)]

This is one of those times when you look at a ridiculously oppressive and over-broad law and wonder how it could possibly have been passed in the first place, much less how it could stand any sort of legal challenge that’s sure to arise:

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.


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.

More than a few legal experts are already raising some serious concerns over the fact that this new law would be blatantly unconstitutional (and not to mention downright insane). Last I heard, the First Amendment didn’t contain any restrictions in its text or intent referring to what might happen if some random pearl-clutchers got offended by otherwise perfectly legal material. Actual harassment is one thing, and it should certainly be criminalized, but to equate that with merely posting graphical content online that some random strangers might take exception to is utterly ridiculous.

With their other recent online fail, it seems that Tennessee legislators don’t really grok the whole “Internetz” thingy.

(via @radleybalko)