USA Today reports today on a provision in the "Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005" (P.L. 109-162) that to "annoy, abuse, threaten or harass" someone over the Internet is a federal crime. The provision (section 113 of P.L. 109-162) was authored by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who noted in a news release that "until now cyberstalking using the Internet was outside the reach of authorities." The phrase "annoy, abuse, threaten or harass" had applied to telephones, and coverage was expanded to include the Internet.

The article reports on arguments that the term "annoy" is too vague. It cites, on the one hand, a 2004 federal case (U.S. v. Bowker) that applied the telephone law to uphold the conviction of a man who had stalked a television reporter, and on the other, a 1999 Washington, D.C., case (U.S. v. Popa) which found that the law, as applied to the defendant's conduct, violated the First Amendment.


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