Tennessee Law Makes ‘Distressful’ Images Illegal
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has signed into law a measure making it illegal to send “distressful” or “harassing” images to third parties.
The legislation defines harassing images as those that would cause the recipient to be “frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed.”
The law makes it a punishable offense for a person to transmit by telephone, written correspondence, or electronic communications any image without “legitimate purpose” and with the reasonable expectation it would “frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress” to a “similarly situated person of similar sensibilities.” Violators face $100 fines or 20 hours of community service.
House Bill 0300 was sponsored by state Rep. Charles Curtis (D-Sparta) and signed by the governor on June 1. The law became effective July 1.
First Amendment advocates immediately weighed in with concerns the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech provisions.
‘Enforcement Extremely Subjective’ Kevin Cullis, a former Apple employee, tech speaker, and author, says HB 0300 is too vague about what constitutes harassment and how it differs from existing federal and Tennessee laws.
“I am not a lawyer, but don’t we already have slander and libel on the law books?” asked Cullis. “Do we need more laws, or just enforcement of the ones on the books? Free speech is just that, free speech.”
“I completely agree that a law to make it a crime to transmit or display an image online that is likely to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to someone who views it would be unconstitutional and a direct threat to free speech,” said Brent Hunter, chairman and CEO of Intelligent Internet Marketing. “Interpreting and enforcing this type of law would be extremely subjective and would be especially difficult in that what could be considered to be an issue in one city, town, county, state, or country wouldn’t necessarily be an issue in another geographic location.”
Hunter continued: “Painful images reported by media and documentary filmmakers could be thrown in the mix, leading to more confusion, as the law states an individual must be acting with the malicious intent to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress.”
Seeing Value in Disturbance Hunter asks where the line can be drawn to distinguish images deemed frightening or causing emotional distress.
“Images of the destruction caused by gigantic tidal waves or tsunamis, or earthquake scenes, or tornado scenes, or other scenes of disturbing natural disasters are sometimes the types of images we need to see in order to truly grasp the gravity of certain situations,” Hunter said.
“There are naturally many more examples, including pictures of war. Sometimes when people see reality through an unedited lens, they can experience sudden shifts in their perspectives and in their consciousness,” said Hunter.
Krystle Russin (email@example.com) writes from Austin, Texas.
“HB 0300 Summary,” Rep. Charles Curtis, June 1, 2011: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/billinfo/BillSummaryArchive.aspx?BillNumber=HB0300&ga=107