Win in Washington State: Judge Strikes Down Unconstitutional “Cyberstalking” Law Chilling Free Speech

By Rebecca Jeschke

Great news out of Washington state: a federal judge has ruled that the First Amendment protects speech on the Internet, even from anonymous speakers, and even if it’s embarrassing.

EFF has been fighting this statute for a long time. It’s a prime example of how sloppy approaches to combating “cyberstalking” can go terribly wrong. As we explained in an amicus brief filed in this case by EFF and the ACLU of Washington, the law could potentially block the routine criticism of politicians and other public figures that is an integral part of our democracy.

Online harassment requires careful and sophisticated solutions, but this law instead banned using all “electronic communications” intended to “embarrass” someone that are made anonymously or repeatedly or include an obscenity. It’s easy to think of a host of perfectly reasonable criticisms that could be criminalized by this vague and overbroad law: one politician publishing various lists of questionable decisions made by an election challenger; a series of newspaper editorials arguing that a city official should be scorned because of misconduct; or an activist posting multiple videos of a lawmaker doing something unsavory.

This is all valuable speech that is protected by the First Amendment, and no state law should be allowed to undermine these rights. We are pleased that the judge has agreed.

Rebecca Jeschke is EFF’s Media Relations Director and a Digital Rights Analyst, fielding press requests on a broad range of issues including privacy, free speech, and intellectual property matters. Her media appearances include Fox News, CNN, NPR, USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, and Harper’s Magazine, and she has been a presenter at South by Southwest. Before joining EFF in 2005, Rebecca worked in television and Internet news for more than ten years, including stints as an Internet producer for CBS 5 in San Francisco and as a senior supervising producer for TechTV. She has also been a travel guide editor, an English teacher in the Dominican Republic, and a worker on a “slime line” gutting fish in Alaska. Rebecca is on the Advisory Board for the Internet Freedom Festival and on the Board of Directors of Alameda Family Services.

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