21 May 2008

Laws Have Consequences

From the St. Louis Beacon comes an excellent, excellent analysis of the recent decision by a federal grand jury in California to indict Lori Drew-- you remember, the one who despicably posed as a greasy-faced teenager and prodded Megan Meier to suicide-- for the crime of cyberbullying. Essentially, the indictment centers around the claim that Drew violated the terms of service agreement of her internet provider.

Well, I ask you, have any of you ever read the terms of service agreement for your internet service provider?

It will be just as easy to prosecute other internet users who "intimidate" or "frighten" or "harass" people as it is to prosecute Drew for her unconscionable behavior. When Catholics speak out in support of the teachings of the Church in areas relating to sodomy, adultery, abortion etc., couldn't they be "intimidating" or "harassing" the weak-willed and weak-minded?

Doesn't Governor Sibelius feel intimidated by Catholic blogs for her abortion position? Doesn't Fr. Bozek feel "skerred" by negative press? Do Ree and Elsie feel harassed by actual Catholics objecting to their cheap charades?

It is time to wake up to the creeping threat to our freedom of speech. Great Britain, Canada, and Western European Nations have already given away the farm. The so-called alternative media is a necessary means for people to have access to the marketplace of ideas instead of being force-fed to accept what is given to them.

Internet muzzling laws, however well-intended, will have the effect of killing free speech.

Analysis: Drew prosecution could make felons of us all

By William H. Freivogel, Special to the Beacon
Last Updated ( Monday, 19 May 2008 )

The prosecution of Lori Drew in the MySpace cyberbullying case appears to be the first time that a federal prosecutor has tried to make it a federal crime for a computer user to violate one of those "terms of service" agreements that no one reads. As despicable as Drew's alleged conduct was, the prosecutor's legal theory would make most of us federal felons.

In addition to questions about prosecutorial overreaching, the indictment raises constitutional questions because anonymous speech is protected by the First Amendment.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien acknowledged in announcing the indictment last week that this is the first time the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has been used in a social networking case. In the past, it has been used in hacking cases.

Orin Kerr, writing on volokh.com, argues that the indictment should be dismissed. Computer users violate terms of service agreements dozens of times every day. The Drew indictment would theoretically criminalize those actions.

"This case involves a terrible tragedy," the expert in computer law from George Washington University wrote. "I think what Lori Drew did is truly despicable. But the government's legal theory ... is very weak. Legally speaking, the prosecution is a real stretch. ... Since everyone who uses computers violates dozens of different TOS every day, the theory would make everyone who uses computers a felon."


Kerr goes on to point out that "Paragraph 11 of the indictment lamely notes that a copy of the TOS was 'readily available' to MySpace Users if they went looking for it, clicked the link and read it. But the statute requires intent, so whether the TOS was 'readily available' is irrelevant."

The First Amendment problem that arises is that anonymous speech has been protected since the time of the founding of the nation. The Federalist Papers were written anonymously. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a pamphleteer, Margaret McIntyre, to distribute leaflets anonymously.


As for the future, the Missouri Legislature passed a new law last Friday intended to address cyber harassment cases like that of Megan Meier. The official summary of the law says a person commits the crime:

1) By knowingly communicating with another person who is, or who purports to be, seventeen years of age or younger and in so doing, and without good cause, recklessly frightens, intimidates, or causes emotional distress to such other person; or

2) By engaging, without good cause, in any other act with the purpose to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person, cause such person to be frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed, and such person's response to the act is one of a person of average sensibilities considering the person's age.

An adult who harasses a person under 18 is guilty of a Class D felony.

You don't need much of an imagination to see the danger in the law above. We need to wake up.


Anonymous said...


Let's be quick to agree that the legal theory behind prosecution is dangerous.

But let's try another theory.

What if the prosecution argued something like this:

1.) Megan Meier was emotionally unstable and had once already attempted suicide, a fact known to Lori Drew.

2.) Lori Drew, knowing of the child's emotional instability, deliberately and callously worked her victim into an extreme state of depression and then recklessly suggested that she kill herself.

3.) Modern medical science has as it's majority opinion that suicidal depression is based in chemical dysfuntions in the brain and given such, no imputation of free will can be made in most cases of suicide following extreme depression.

4.) Ergo, Megan was not free to reject the suggestion that she die and consequently killed herself.

5.) Lori Drew is a collaborator, or enabler (hear this Dr. Kevokian) in an unlawful death: suicide.

Don't know if legal theory will hold up but the case, and our culture, cry out for something like this.

For my theory to work the prosecution would have to prove malice, knowledge of the deceased medical history, and willful intent to harm. That amounts to a lot of free speech protection.

So, I say let's write the law differently, or better and then "Book 'em Danno".


Anonymous said...

I thought there were already laws against harassment & stalking. It seems that intentionally harassing a minor into a suicide should in itself be illegal. I know it is illegal to pose as a teenager to solicit sex, well why is posing as a teenager to coerce suicide not just as wrong?

This is a good example of parental negligence. Why was this teenaged girl allowed free reign with the internet & MySpace? Some parents need to stop letting the computer, television, coaches and teachers raise their children. They need quantity time with mom and dad!