So there you are, one of Washington state’s many Caring People, anxiously wringing your hands and wondering what to do about the awful and scary Big Truck. Somehow you deduce that horrible things are happening to defenceless children all the time — people are saying “fuck” to them, but over the Internet so it’s worse — and sound your battle cry of “There Oughta Be A Law Against That!” And so you come up with RCW 9.61.260, and sit back down, hands neatly folded in your lap, spine erect, blissfully smug smile playing over your lips, before regaling your irritatingly-underappreciative audience with entirely made-up statistics of how many children you’ve just saved.
And then this happens:
- Cartoonist targeted with criminal probe for mocking police (KIRO Seattle)
In your world, dear Caring Person, police officers are honest and upright, stalwarts protecting the huddled sheep against shadowy and terrifying figures. Prosecutors are steely-eyed and sharp-minded, selecting their cases with rapierlike precision and a deep appreciation for the community’s safety. Judges — O judges! — are strict but scrupulously fair, drawing their judgements from both an abyssally deep understanding of criminal law and unimpeachable moral virtue. (You’re probably butthurt that Casey Anthony didn’t get the death penalty.)
Unfortunately, your world is connected to the real world only by the tenuous gossamer threads of your fevered imagination.
In this real world — where we must all live with the consequences of laws made for your world — enough* law enforcement agents are corrupt, incompetent, sociopathic, or all three at once to prompt someone to make fun of them on xtranormal. Enough prosecutors are tribal and opportunistic enough to apply that cyberstalking law of yours to those cartoons, despite a little thing we like to call the First Amendment. And enough judges are venal — or simply slipshod — enough to issue a warrant against fucking Google to demand the identity of this pseudonymous scriptwriter.
I’ll let Ken take it from here:
But, you plead, you didn’t mean to abridge this anonymous comedian’s free-speech rights! You didn’t mean to enable chilling and thuggish privacy intrusions by a vindictive law-enforcement establishment upon anyone who might happen to use the word “fuck” whilst criticizing them! You just wanted to protect children!
Which brings me to a quotation from that first Popehat post, spattered onto the internet like an unwelcome droplet of liquishit by one of the aforementioned butthurt Casey-haters:
How can a law that protects children be WRONG? How can it be questionable?
My dear, laws of this sort don’t protect people, children or adults. They can’t. RCW 9.61.260 (1)(a) doesn’t leap from its webserver, sprint down a fibre-optic trunk, and heroically interpose itself between an innocent victim and “lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language” like an ascii-encoded superhero before those hurtful words can reach their target’s email client or web browser. RCW 9.61.260 provides for the punishment of people who are convicted of its violation. It doesn’t know whether those people are nasty rude cyber-meanies or simply private citizens not-so-quietly exercising their First Amendment rights. It doesn’t care whether they stand accused of being cruel to the delicate flowers of innocence or of causing embarrassment or annoyance to someone with access to the state’s monopoly on aggressive violence. It merely enumerates yet another way in which the state can fuck with you; it doesn’t know whether you deserve it.
* I’m sure it’s just a few bad apples: the usual story of 90% giving the rest a bad name