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Rhode Island repeals online lying law amid First Amendment concerns

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Rhode Island lawmakers have voted to repeal a law which makes it illegal to lie online

legal (shutterstock)
legal (shutterstock)

The Rhode Island state legislature voted earlier this month to repeal a 23-year-old law criminalizing lying online. First enacted in 1989 with the aim of combating scammers and fraudsters, the regulation made "transmission of false data" illegal, effectively barring any form of deception on the internet, including simple things such as lying about your age.

While the law was rarely enforced, the occasions when it was used raised First Amendment concerns among Rhode Island politicians, who considered it a restriction on free speech. The movement to repeal it was kicked off by controversy surrounding a 2010 case in which a prison guard set up a fake Facebook page impersonating his boss.

"This law made virtually the entire population of Rhode Island a criminal," Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union, tells the AP. "When this bill was enacted nobody had any idea what its ramifications were. Telling fibs may be wrong, but it shouldn't be criminal activity."