I hope this piece doesn't annoy or offend anyone. Or, if it does, I hope none of you are in Arizona. I don't want to go to jail for 25 years.
A bill, HB2549, that has sailed through the Arizona legislature -- though it appears to be stopped for now -- makes it a misdemeanor to, among other things, use the Internet to annoy or offend people. There are a number of people who feel this is a legitimate concern. The problem is, as anyone who's used the Internet for more than five minutes knows, it can be pretty difficult to say anything more controversial than "The sky is blue" without offending or annoying somebody.
How did this happen? The bill text was essentially drawn from Arizona code about telephone harassment. The thing is, telephone communications are direct, one-on-one activities, where it's pretty easy to tell who was being offended or annoyed by whom and why. As more of a broadcast medium, something that someone posts can be seen by literally millions of people, any one of whom might end up being offended or annoyed.
Ironically, legislators are not taking kindly to having this pointed out to them. One of the bill's cosponsors, Rep. Vic Williams (R-Tucson), posted in response, "As the co-sponsor of HB2549 I can see the conspiracy have their tin-foil hats on tonight. HB2549 is being chased down by the “black-helicopter” crowd. Their claims of internet restriction are unfounded and way off base!!"
Fortunately for Rep. Williams -- or perhaps because of him -- HB2549's nearly unanimous passage through both houses of the Arizona Legislature appears to have come to a halt for now, due either to the international ridicule the bill has achieved or some members of the legislature actually taking the concerns of the tinfoil hat black helicopter crowd seriously. It's also been suggested that Arizona's own free-speech provisions in its Constitution -- even stronger than those in the Bill of Rights -- would throw the law out in any event, even if passed.