ACLU of Tennessee to sue to overturn state's cyberbullying law

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 12:44pm

The Tennessee ACLU said Tuesday it will sue to overturn the state’s new cyberbullying law as a violation of free-speech protections.

Bloggers and other commentators have harshly criticized the law, which takes effect Friday, because it makes it a crime to post on the Internet any image that causes “emotional distress” to anyone.

“This new law creates a chilling effect on expressive political, artistic and otherwise lawful speech and also turns political activists, artists and others into criminals,” ACLU-Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said. “In addition, anyone with an online presence, such as social media users, becomes vulnerable.”

The ACLU said it was “responding to numerous requests for assistance and after a thorough legal analysis.”

The law’s sponsor, Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, has insisted it contains sufficient safeguards to prevent unreasonable prosecutions. The law is aimed at combating Internet harassment.

But the ACLU pointed out the law provides no criteria for determining what is offensive or disturbing. It said the law’s “overly broad and vague language leaves everyone with an online presence vulnerable to prosecution.”

Tricia Herzfeld, ACLU-Tennessee legal director, called the law “blatantly unconstitutional.”

19 Comments on this post:

By: luvslife51 on 6/28/11 at 1:43

Yes I would like to know the names of the people who contribute to ACLU.....

Knows they will not be publishing that list ...-smirks-

By: Ingleweird on 6/28/11 at 3:09

@luvslife:
What a moronic statement. The ACLU is under no obligation to provide this information. After all, they are not a government entity, and none of your precious tax dollars go to funding their mission.

I'll give you a hint though:
The contributors to the ACLU are liberty-loving Americans who care a hell of a lot more about the US Constitution than you could ever pretend to do.

By: house_of_pain on 6/29/11 at 4:56

This law is too vague, and it must be overturned.

By: Captain Nemo on 6/29/11 at 5:47

The law will come back to bite them on their backside. Tennessee law makers are known for their lack of understanding fully of the laws they make.

By: GoodGrief on 6/29/11 at 7:20

Unfortunately we do have to fund our half of the legal battle that ensues when the ACLU comes up with these absurd, self-serving cases. Too too many young people taking their own lives after being cyber-bullied. Argue about something else.

By: RJP on 6/29/11 at 7:54

rjp Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never harm you,unless you want them to. Courts have way more to do than deal with hurt feelings. Pretty sure a judge may do more than just hurt your tenderness for wasting there courts time.One can only hope!

By: shervon on 6/29/11 at 7:56

The issue is not whether or not cyberbullying is wrong...it's about our legislature writing correct, concise law to support EXACTLY what constitutes the definition of what cyberbullying is. The ACLU is correct to assert that what is currently written is too vague and the courts could incur too many frivilous claims if it were passed as is. It is up to our legislators to thoroughly research all nuances of this law to close any loopholes.

By: Ingleweird on 6/29/11 at 8:20

@GoodGrief:
"Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..."

To the contrary, the ACLU does not come up "with these absurd, self-serving cases." It is American individuals and American groups who feel their Constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties are not being honored; the ACLU would not generally take on a case without legal merit. If you feel your tax money is being wasted in courts, it behooves you and your fellow citizens to elect representatives in all levels of government that understand the fundamentals of our Bill of Rights. Otherwise, you need to convince federal legislators to amend the US Constitution. Good luck with that.

By: consultmlcesq on 6/29/11 at 9:17

This is good news. Godspeed ACLU. This vague and general law - implimented by the first GOP dominated State Legislature and Governorship since reconstruction - puts a criminal twist on censorship - I suspect for political purposes. Under this law, we must all be careful not to be perceived as "knowingly alarming or annoying others" in our social networking status posts, at the risk of being criminally charged with "harassment." Imagine the contraints this law will place on legitimate political debate during this upcoming election season. And who will be making the call, which can be no less than an arbitrary and capricious knee jerk reaction by a potentially sensitive and biased reader? I suspect a scandal is amidst . . . perhaps a sting operation in which targeted outspoken Democrats will be corralled as they were when Ford and company did the ethical dance - the one which resulted in a much anticipated and expected backlash, a GOP sweep. One must always anticipate a longer term, broader strategy when the GOP is at the helm of the ship. Indeed, deception is the art of GOP politics.

By: cityjvtao on 6/29/11 at 9:38

It always fun to watch any time the ACLU is mentioned as the far right gets whipped into a frenzy. The substance is irrelevant. It wouldn’t matter what the ACLU opposed, the far right would oppose it!

By: Nashville SEO on 6/29/11 at 10:41

1) That's it, I'm turning half of you in for bullying the lawmakers and the other half for bullying the ACLU. Who cares if it is legitimate, I'll win either way; because I know it will cost you $10,000 in legal fees, win or lose.

See what I did just there? This bill provides a legal venue to bully anyone who says anything you don't like. Are you a politician who needs to silence a grassroots political action committee? Just turn them in and watch their donations be sucked up in legal fees. Problem solved.

2) The one thing no one has discussed is that what you say or do online is already being widely used by the courts in the prosecution of legitimate crimes and threats of crime. It's not like there was a gap in the law that needed filling.

3) Nashville is a growing entrepreneurial tech hub and Chattanooga is about to explode with Amazon moving to town. We are working so hard to bring forward thinking Internet 100 companies to Tennessee...this has the potential to cost Tennessee billions in lost revenue, if this gives us the reputation for not understanding the nuances of the online social world and are willing to pass laws that could cost any Tennessee based corporation millions in legal fees.

-Freeman
Nashville SEO

By: rawhide on 6/29/11 at 10:44

Yes, and the REALLY clever part of this GOP deception ("consultmlcesq") is that a Democrat was the lead sponsor and this and the previous version (2009) enjoyed majority Democrat support).

This legislation is rooted in Liberal hand-wringing and Big Gov't, not traditional values.

By: luvslife51 on 6/29/11 at 1:52

To Ingleweird :....I am asking because I want to know if any of the donations are from people like Soros or even the Al Quida who want this country go as far to communism as can be...
You can heave all the insults you want at me but when ACLU wants to remove the In God We Trust from the money we use and remove So Help Me God from The Pledge of Allegiance then maybe some of you will wake up...wait a minute didn't NBC do that during the golf tournament ????

By: Ingleweird on 6/29/11 at 3:00

@luvslife:
Fair enough. I apologize for attacking you without fully understanding your reasong. That said, I am 110% OK with the ACLU fighting to remove "In God We Trust." As a half Shintoist - half Greek Mythologist, I demand it be changed to "In Gods We Trust," or removed altogether. Why should I be compelled to kowtow to your one-dimensional monotheism? My position is easily supported by a strict and straightforward interpretation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

Furthermore, "So help me God," is nowhere to be found in the pledge. "Under God," was added by a bunch of Christian theocrats during the McCarthyism era; it was not in the original pledge.

I am wide awake. You are living in a coma. No offense.

By: Ingleweird on 6/29/11 at 3:02

"Reasong" s/h/b "reasoning."

By: GammaMoses on 6/29/11 at 6:23

Sometimes I feel like punching someone in the nose as an expression of disgust at their behavior. I would be arrested for battery. However, the battery arrest would be limiting my freedom of expression. Would the ACLU defend me?

By: LoboSolo on 6/30/11 at 5:34

@GammaMoses ... No they wouldn't because what you have done is assault which is vastly different than just words.

Actually, I think the whole concept of cyberbullying is nonsense. I can block anyone from directly contacting me. Really folks, did we have snailmail bullying laws?

This is what happens with the liberal left like the misandrist Marrero allies with the so-cons to pass legislation. Welcome to AmeriKa.

Remember, the road to tyranny is paved with good intentions.

Always question authority. It drives those who think they have it insane.

By: GammaMoses on 6/30/11 at 9:57

@LoboSolo...I take your point on the difference between physical assault and verbal assault. But how do we prevent senseless suicide of young people who have their lives seemingly ruined by others spreading nonsense about them on the internet? Snailmail bullying laws weren't required because the recipients of the snailmail were small or insignificant. Broadcasting remarks over the internet is totally different than broadcasting remarks via snailmail--thus noone found the need to write snailmail bullying laws. (Actually I'm not sure about that. Can't you bring a person into court for libel?) Young people have no defense against internet-spread rumors. Internet users can block their incoming messages, but internet users cannot block incoming messages to other users.

By: luvslife51 on 6/30/11 at 1:34

@Ingleweird

Read your post ...what a mix...I am awake ...be sure to have more sand brought in...to keep your head in there....