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Arizona law amendment threatens to outlaw 'lewd or profane language' on the internet

Arizona law amendment threatens to outlaw 'lewd or profane language' on the internet


Arizona House Bill 2549 amends references to the telephone in an outdated anti-harassment bill to cover all communications, but some are worried that the current wording could impinge on free speech.

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Arizona House Bill 2549 is currently awaiting the signature of governor Jan Brewer, an amendment which would criminalize the use of "obscene, lewd, or profane language" through any digital communication, if done with the intent to "terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend." The amendment replaces earlier references that protected people against harrassment by telephone, but it seems that the amendment has simply replaced references to the telephone with the far broader "electronic or digital device" and "communications" without any thought to the difference in context between the two mediums.


While the changes to the bill are intended to make cyberbullying and online harassment illegal, some are concerned that they could be misused as a form of online censorship and threaten free speech. The bill also covers some elements of stalking using technology, but offers far more specific definitions of what is and isn't unlawful.

US pressure group Media Coalition has written to Brewer, urging her to veto the bill over concerns that the amendment offers no definitions of "annoy, offend, harass, or terrify." It also makes the key point that "H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted." The group sees the intended aims of the bill are admirable, though worries that the current wording could threaten people's first amendment rights in Arizona.