A bipartisan bill designed to stop online bullying has raised the specter of Internet censorship. The well-intended legislation, which has already passed through Arizona’s legislature, is drafted in a way that many feel could stifle political satire, friendly sports trash-talking, and other everyday types of communication.

Arizona House Bill 2549 currently awaits the signature of Gov. Jan Brewer. It basically takes Arizona’s existing law against annoying, offensive, harassing and threatening phone calls and broadens it to encompass anything online.

Comedy Central’s Indecision blog, which has a personal and professional interest in free speech, noticed the law and remarked, “See if you can use your experience of having visited the comments section of any blog, on any site, at any time in the history of the Internet to spot potential problems in the legislation….”

Media Coalition, a trade group protecting the First Amendment rights of content industries, has been campaigning against the bill throughout the process. In a March 29 letter to Gov. Brewer it wrote: “Bill Maher’s stand up routines and Jon Stewart’s nightly comedy program, Ann Coulter’s books criticizing liberals and Christopher Hitchens’ expressions of his disdain for religion, Stephen King’s novels or the Halloween films all could be subject to this legislation. Even common taunting about sports between rival fans done online is frequently meant to offend or annoy, and is often done using salty and profane language.”

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh is another who is making his concerns known. Explaining that the bill amounts to censorship and may even be unconstitutional, he wrote on his Volokh Conspiracy blog that telephones communicate on a one-to-one basis, so an offensive phone call is probably intended to be offensive to the listener. “But computers used to post Facebook messages or send Twitter messages or post blog items can offend some listeners while persuading and informing others,” he pointed out.

The body of the bill reads:
“It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous electronic or digital communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the communications were received.”

Reps. Ted Vogt and Vic Williams, both R-Tucson, are the main sponsors of the bill, with support from House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix), Assistant House Minority Leader Steve Farley (D-Tucson) and Rep. Terri Proud (R-Tucson).

Related links:

Arizona House Bill 2549 – text of bill

Arizona House Bill 2549 – legislative history

Comedy Central’s Indecision – Arizona Bill Criminalizes Every Internet Comments Section, Ever

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund – Arizona Legislature Passes Sweeping Electronic Speech Censorship Bill

Phoenix Business Journal – Online bullying bill puts national spotlight on Arizona Legislature

Phoenix New Times – Arizona Legislature Apparently Trying to Criminalize Being Annoying on the Internet

Media Coalition – Arizona House Bill 2549: Bill to Censor Electronic Speech

Photo by Flickr user johnsnape, used under Creative Commons license



  1. Letter: Dear Mr Chabin,

    I understand that you voted to approve the House Bill 2549 and this is a big concern for me considering the Oath of Office YOU took to Defend the Constitution.

    Protecting people from any harassment is a worthy goal, but legislators cannot do this by criminalizing speech protected by the Constitution. All speech is presumed to be protected by the First Amendment against content based regulations.
    Of course cyber-stalking, bullying and harassment are real life issues that should be dealt with, but this far overreaching Bill is not the way to do it and still protect our Citizens Constitutional Rights.

    Sometimes speech protected by our First Amendment is intended to offend, irritate or even scare, but the same could be prosecuted under this proposed new law.

    In a underhanded way, the government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is slowly being eroded. It has become a government taking away individual freedoms one by one until we find “the people” in a battle to defend the Constitution and the First Amendment and others from being systematically destroyed.

    The sanctity of all human life is the Core Principle underlying the individual freedoms of thought, speech and choice. It is this concept and ideology that requires a limited form of government. This demands that if a government “by the people” is to continue, “people” must be in control and limit the current government.

    I urge you to take a step back and reevaluate what your priorities are based on what Governments role in our Society was founded to be.

    Hopefully, you will see that you have made a choice that is Unconstitutional and correct that action.


    Donna L. Creamer
    Flagstaff, AZ. 86004

  2. I sent this to Mr Tom Chabin in his fb messages. I am not on his friends list or I would have posted it right to his page.
    It would seem a good thing for Mr Chabin that this Bill has NOT passed yet, as I am very sure that many of our Citizens find his rude remarks “Offensive!”

    I was just reading your page on facebook.
    If you seriously think that Mr. Dorfsmith’s question to you about reading the bill was disrespectful, then you really need to take a hard look at the job you are in and see if it is time to go in another direction.
    You are in a job where you represent Mr Dorfsmith and I myself am grateful that he asked you the question, as from your own comments it was not clear if you had read the entire thing.
    Yes, the ENTIRE Bill needs to be read and scrutinized by YOU for it’s Constitutionally eroding points, so that “We the People” that you represent can know you do care about our rights.
    Your actions do NOT say that right now and neither do your rude remarks to the Citizens of this state!
    Another point., the moment Mr. Dorfsmith “get’s off your back” there is a line of citizens behind him playing Leap Frog, just to see who can be the next to climb on your back.
    If that thought offends you, then please RESIGN.

    For now, I will personally send loving thoughts to you in hopes that you will soften your heart toward those of us you are supposed to be defending.
    Deep down I want to believe that you are a man of integrity that has had a temporary lapse in judgement.

    Most Sincerely,
    Mrs. Donna L. Creamer
    Flagstaff, AZ.

  3. Internet decency laws are solutions looking for problems and a gross violation of Freedom of Speech. These statutes have absolutely NO affect on cyber-bullying and only serve to be a lightning-rod for the ACLU and other watchdog groups, wasting taxpayers’ time and money to no avail. A similar law was passed just last summer here in Tennessee, which I responded to with a “potentially offensive” portrait of our Governor Bill Haslam and his First Lady to bring attention to the issue on my artist’s blog at To date, not a single charge has been filed enforcing this frivolous and dangerous law including myself.

  4. Donna L. Creamer
    I agree that it may limit your so called “Thoguhts and Freedom of Speech” but nobody asked any one to express their oppions about judging others keep that trash talk to your self. I think that those who are involved with cyber bullying should be punished because of anything happens to the bullied; they need to suffer the consequences. Not only should they be prosecuted but they should be in jail for assisted suicide. Basically pushing and tempting the person to take their own life. These people need to serve jail time or better yet BE UNDER THE JAIL.No one is telling you can speak your mind their simply saying keep all that negative shit to your self. You should be a role modelfor young kids; teach them to be better better; a better human being. People need to know how much their words can hurt and how it can effect people. If you havn’t been reading the paper or watching the new kids and yound adults take their lives because of stupid people that have nothing to do with their lives torment them constantly until they reach their breaking point. So why don’t you think abou that before critizing the bill that could possible change the count of suicide victims who where tormented and abused because of a stupid text, IM, email, or posted facebook comment….!!!!!!

    • So is this Chabin’s nephew come to be vile again?
      Or just some other opinionated FOOL!
      You will not change my mind or any of us looking to Protect our Constitution.
      Go look in the mirror and work on yourself.