Tennessee cracks down on ‘distressing images’ online

distressing imageThe state of Tennessee is taking action against what can be considered emotionally harmful Internet images. At the end of May, Governor Bill Haslam signed HB 300, a bill that wants to cut down on the transmission of electronic “distressing images.” Of course, the bill’s wording has been interpreted to sound much more unconstitutional than it actually may be (or is intended to be).

According to various tech sites and blogs, Tennessee has now banned distressing images from the Internet and that anyone responsible for posting such content is punishable by law (up to a year in jail or $2,500 in fines). In reality, the bill is an amendment to the state’s definition of criminal harassment. “This bill adds communicating about a person, or transmitting or displaying an image by electronic device to the types of conduct that will constitute harassment when done with the requisite intent [as described].” From the sounds of it, HB 300 is attempting to thwart cyber bullies or criminals attempting to intimidate victims with offensive images. Unfortunately, the bill raises censorship concerns by failing to specify who could be found guilty. It doesn’t only apply to those who deliberately post images with the intention of one individual seeing them; it applies to anyone who may put up a picture that causes any Internet user who happens across is distress. The legislation is so broad that a number of people could be found guilty, and there’s no distinct definition about what is or what isn’t considered offensive or harmful.

The original bill is rightly in place to keep people safe from being harassed via electronic communication mediums, but the addition is what will likely be struck down: “[One who] transmits or displays an image in a manner in which there is a reasonable expectation that the image will be viewed by the victim…” is considered guilty. And what’s more concerning is the invasion of privacy HB 300 would enable. The legislation requires ISPs that operate social networking sites and have servers in the state to hand over any “images and communications” posted to these Websites and make them “available for inspection.” It seems like HB 300’s heart is in the right place by trying to keep those with bad intentions from harassing others with upsetting photos via the Internet, but it’s the lack of specifics that are concerning.

HB 300 passed overwhelmingly, 92 to three. Legal experts believe the bill is unconstitutional and the conversation about its standing likely isn’t over. Tennessee has been making headlines lately for its Internet laws, recently declaring it illegal to share your Netflix password.

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