Email firm claims ‘annoyance law' is unconstitutional

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A firm has launched a legal challenge against the newly passed federal "annoyance law," claiming that recent amendments to the legislation are unconstitutional.

TheAnonymousEmail.com, together with its parent company, The Suggestion Box, has taken action against the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, which President Bush signed into law on Jan. 5.

This legislation includes Section 113, which adds electronic communications through the internet to the scope of communications covered by an existing criminal statute, 47 U.S.C. 223 - the so-called "annoyance statute."

Among other things, the "annoyance statute" imposes criminal penalties upon anyone who sends an anonymous communication with an "intent to annoy." Now, with the recent technical amendment, anyone who sends such an email could be subject to criminal penalties, warned TheAnonymousEmail.com. The Annoyance Statute does not define "annoy."

TheAnonymousEmail.com advertises and provides services through which persons can send anonymous emails for "a variety of personal and business-oriented needs." The firm noted that, under the "annoyance statute," it could become subject to criminal penalties for persons using its facilities to send annoying emails.

"Because of the uncertainty under the "annoyance statute" as to its criminal liability for advertising and providing anonymous email communications, TheAnonymousEmail.com has challenged the "annoyance statute" as being unconstitutional on its face and as applied to it," TheAnonymousEmail.com stated today.

It went on to state that it has also challenged the "annoyance statute" as a user of anonymous email communications. It alleged that the "annoyance statute" violates the First and Fifth Amendment right to communicate anonymously. It also specifically alleged that the "annoyance statute" violates the First and Fifth Amendment as unconstitutionally vague.

Howard R. Baer, president of The Suggestion Box, stated: "It appears that this law slipped under the door, and nobody in Congress with any common sense looked at it. I'm also the chairman of a public company, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed by this same Congress three years ago, requires me to provide for 'the confidential, anonymous submission by my employees any concerns regarding questionable accounting or auditing matters.' The new 'annoy' law essentially requires the exact opposite."

He added that, if someone files a complaint under the SOX act accusing the president of a public company of wrongdoing and the president believes it was sent to annoy him, the accuser can be thrown in jail for two years under the 'annoy law': "This new version of the 'annoy law' appears to completely contradict the intent of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and violates our First and Fifth Amendment rights."

Chicago-based Mudd Law Offices will be representing The Suggestion Box with Charles Lee Mudd Jr. acting as lead counsel. He said the term "annoy" is far too anonymous.

"The statute at 47 U.S.C. 223 always had ambiguity and vagueness issues, particularly with the undefined term 'annoy.' However, the recent amendments to the statute exponentially increase the application of the statute and all of its deficiencies considering the shear number of electronic communications sent each and every day. Without any guidance on what 'annoy' might encompass or how one would define and determine an 'intent to annoy,' the statute unconstitutionally chills protectable anonymous speech. The 'annoyance law' is without question unconstitutional on its face and must be ruled as such," Mudd stated.

The Suggestion Box Inc has filed a complaint seeking declaratory judgment in U.S. District Court. "My client, The Suggestion Box, Inc., had no choice but to file suit and seek an order declaring 47 U.S.C. 223, the "annoyance statute," unconstitutional with respect to the term 'annoy.' My client has no means of gauging whether its conduct violates the statute or whether its conduct excepts it from the statute's defenses. It has no basis on which to guide its customers. It's in the business of providing a valuable tool to individuals, as well as businesses, in which to communicate anonymously and foster free speech on the internet. The 'annoyance statute' has cast significant ambiguity on the legality of its business and its customers communications," Mudd Jr. added.

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