Annoy someone online (anonymously); go to jail
From Declan McCullagh (link via my annoying — but not anonymous — friend Steve Evans):
Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity. In other words, it’s OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. . . . Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.
As McCullough notes, there are a number of problematic issues that arise from this. Many legitimate websites include anonymous or pseudonymous writers.
Will this law mean the end for Juan Non-Volokh, Bitch Ph.D., Plainsman, and legions of other psuedonymous and anonymous bloggers? I certainly hope not. Perhaps a big enough backlash from angry bloggers will have positive results.
UPDATE: Dan S. weighs in with a comment. The change in law affects only the intent analysis. Dan’s comment seems to indicate (correct me if I’m wrong) that the statute will still affect only those who send a “communication which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent.” (However, assuming you’re engaged in such activity, the “intent to annoy” will be enough to satisfy the intent requirement of the statute).
So it looks like you’re safe — unless you’re sexually harrassing someone via the Internet.
UPDATE 2: New thoughts from bloggers on the further-developing story: Dan Solove argues that the statute does indeed cover more than just sexual harrassment; I suggest that the provision in question may still be limited to cases of obscenity and harrassment; and Kip Esquire goes even further and questions whether the statute covers blogs at all, or whether it’s merely meant to cover internet telephony.
UPDATE 3: Further evidence that this is _not_ the end of the world as we know it: Orin Kerr notes that the First Amendment limits application of the statute; Ann Bartow argues that e-mail and blogs are not “telecommunications devices” under the statute.