On Wednesday, Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) introduced legislation with the goal of forcing law enforcement to investigate and prosecute online harassment.
The Prioritizing Online Threat Enforcement Act (POTEA) of 2015, as cited in the bill, asks for the following:
- 10 additional operational agents in the FBI designated to support investigation of cybercrimes.
- 1 Assistant US Attorney in each office for investigating and prosecuting cyber crime.
- Implementation of a “comprehensive training program” including training in investigation, forensics, and prosecution of cybercrimes.
- An appropriation of $4 million dollars per year from 2016 to 2020 for the resources to fulfill POTEA.
- A requirement for the Attorney General to report to Congress within 1 year of enactment on the number of officers hired, investigations and prosecutions conducted relative to cybercrimes.
- Designates a cybercrime to include violations of section 875 or 2216A of title 18, United States Code
The Guts: Section 875 and 2216A.
Let’s dig in to 875 and 2216A of section 18 of United States Code.
Section 875 discusses demands for ransom, extortion, threats to kidnap, and threats of injury to property or reputation of people relative to communications. Pay special attention to section (d), because section (d) is going to be important when we discuss how POTEA relates to the “criticism is harassment” SocJus crowd:
Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
Section 2261A discusses placing people in reasonable fear of death of themselves, an immediate family member, a spouse or intimate partner, or causing, attempt to cause, or reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress. Section 2 of 2261A discusses the use of mail, computers, or electronic communication systems to place a person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury or causes, attempts to cause, or would reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress.
If the Harassment Law Fits, Enforce It!
One of the things I love about this law as proposed (and I love this law as proposed), is how this law can’t do what its designed to do. Rather, this law as written ends up putting members of SocJus at risk while theoretically protecting the rights of ordinary citizens to assemble freely on the Internet.
Let’s grab Sherman, Mr. Peabody, and the Wabac machine, and head back to October 2014, when local, state, and federal law enforcement took in an interest in a threat made at Utah State University surrounding a talk being given by not-allowed-to-be-critiqued critic Anita Sarkeesian.
I’m not going to focus on Sarkeesian’s prize pack for ditching USU back in October, though it did include an infomercial in the New York Times. Instead, it is far more interesting to read the announcement from USU itself about the threat made against the university relative to the talk. Here’s the relevant bit:
Following a disturbing email received late Monday evening, Utah State University police and administrators have been working throughout the day to assess any level of risk to students or to a speaker scheduled to visit. USU police, in conjunction with several teams of state and federal law enforcement experts, determined that there was no threat to students, staff or the speaker, so no alert was issued.
The safety of our students and visitors is always the university’s first priority. At no time was there any imminent threat. The investigation is continuing.
There was no threat. Federal and state law enforcement investigated and found no credible threat. What effectiveness, exactly, would having more, “better trained” law enforcement agents and attorneys have had in this situation? None.
A second case study for when POTEA can’t do what it is supposed to is when Jace Connors made threats toward Brianna Wu, which caused her to pull her booth from PAX East. Only problem is the threats were a hoax. Who gets arrested, the actor playing Jace Connors? Is a crime committed if the crime is a hoax?
What about Randi Harper, who started harassing Anne Rice after Rice got an obviously abusive fake book review removed from Amazon?
Unless I’m reading the law wrong, all Rice would have to do is claim “substantial emotional distress” to trigger the new federal law enforcement and prosecutorial assets POTEA demands into action in order to protect Anne Rice from online abuse. I assume POTEA applies here, and Harper will be the first person arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated under POTEA when it is signed into law.
What about Brad Wardell, who had reporters and editors of SocJus propaganda websites and their respective online armies fall upon him, only for the allegations made against him to be dismissed with prejudice. Does he get to use POTEA against the people irresponsibly reporting untruth as fact, as well as the editors who allowed untruth to be published as fact? He certainly suffered substantial emotional distress at the hands of SocJus’s Ministry of Truth.
As I said, I love this law as written. As soon as someone willing to stand up to SocJus and call them what they are: hypocrites, charlatans, professional victims, pornographers, anti-intellectuals, or pseudo-academics trying to destroy comics, sci-fi, and gaming (among others) is investigated under this law, it will set a standard by which SocJus can be investigated under the same law. My experience with SocJus thus far, in nearly every case, is they harass more and cause more distress than people critical of SocJus.
If anything, this law protects consumers and creators from SocJus, vice protecting creators of bad products from consumer movements.
Calling the ACLU
The ACLU homepage says the following:
We are the nation’s leading civil liberties advocate in the Supreme Court. With over 200 staff attorneys and an extensive network of cooperating attorneys, we handle thousands of cases each year on behalf of clients whose rights have been violated.
Here’s what they say about Internet Speech:
The digital revolution has produced the most diverse, participatory, and amplified communications medium humans have ever had: the Internet. The ACLU believes in an uncensored Internet, a vast free-speech zone deserving at least as much First Amendment protection as that afforded to traditional media such as books, newspapers, and magazines.
The ACLU has been at the forefront of protecting online freedom of expression in its myriad forms. We brought the first case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared speech on the Internet equally worthy of the First Amendment’s historical protections. In that case, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, the Supreme Court held that the government can no more restrict a person’s access to words or images on the Internet than it can snatch a book out of someone’s hands or cover up a nude statue in a museum.
On principle, it would seem the ACLU would immediately marshal the troops to kill POTEA dead in its tracks. Maybe it is, and I’m just not active in the right circles, or maybe POTEA has no hope of being passed and signed in to law because of its flaws, and the ACLU only looks at legislation when it is passed.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the ACLU takes an interest in this law or not.
The thing I love the most, by far, about POTEA is how little effort was put into this law. It’s clear no research was done in writing it. The WAM data wasn’t consulted. A study done by the University of Alberta wasn’t consulted. Chris von Csefalvay’s analysis wasn’t consulted.
One can tell all those sources weren’t consulted, because they all say the same thing: GamerGate is not a hate movement, harassment campaign, nor interested in the least about keeping women out of the gaming industry. Thus, POTEA, as written, changes absolutely nothing, beyond putting certain less popular, less intelligent members of SocJus at risk of incarceration stemming from investigations launched because of POTEA.
Here’s everything POTEA has going for it:
- POTEA can’t do what it is designed to do as written.
- If POTEA does do what it’s designed to do as written, it has suspended due process for half of America’s population.
- POTEA can’t be consistently applied to everyone.
- POTEA is ignorant of technologies such as kproxy.
- POTEA reporting requirements virtually demand specious prosecutions.
It should be obvious by now POTEA is the worst kind of law; however, it does have the benefit of putting sectors of liberal ideology against one another. It would be worth getting this law passed just to watch SocJus try and eat the ACLU after failing catastrophically to eat and destroy the gaming industry. You’ll know this is happening when the usual suspects start claiming the ACLU is misogynist, sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.
So, thanks Congresswoman Clark for writing this law.