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Arizona law lets you keep on trolling

May 09, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • Arizona's HB 2549 generated some controversy in its attempts to amend wording to include current communication technologies.
Arizona's HB 2549 generated some controversy in its attempts to amend… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Trolls, you can breathe easy. Your annoying and offensive comments won't get you arrested in Arizona quite yet.

Arizona lawmakers have amended the amendment to the telephone-harassment section of the state's anti-stalking law so that it no longer says it's illegal "for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any 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."

By proposing to change one word in the law, the legislators were unwittingly altering the entire scope of the law they just wanted to modernize. They had substituted the word "telephone" with "electronic or digital device," in an attempt to include cyber-bullying. 

Telephones narrow-cast -- they connect only with the person or people specifically called. Digital devices, such as computers, can either narrow-cast or broadcast, spraying an array of recipients whose interpretations of annoyance can vary greatly.

Instead, the version of Arizona House Bill 2549 that ultimately passed 27-3 reflects changes urged by Media Coalition, which focuses on 1st Amendment issues, to hone the law's scope.

The bill now requires that the intent and communication to harass be directed at a specific person, and it no longer includes the words "annoy" or "offend." It is also limited to telephone calls, text messages, instant messages and email -- those modes of communication that can be directed to specific recipients.

The bill was sent to Gov. Jan Brewer on May 1 for her signature or veto.


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