A series of angry email messages to a U.S. Senator has landed a man in jail, possibly because he didn't sign them with his correct name or location.
Bruce Shore, who is from Philadelphia, sent email to Senator Jim Bunning, of Kentucky, after the Senator complained on the Senate floor that he'd missed the Kentucky-South Carolina basketball game because of a debate on extending unemployment benefits -- a debate the Kentucky Republican himself prevented from proceeding to a vote, according to an article in the Huffington Post.
Shore was angry because he has been unemployed for two years and had recently lost his unemployment benefits, so he wrote email to Bunning. However, he signed it "Brad Shore" and said he was from Louisville, because he thought the Senator would pay more attention if he thought he was a constituent, the Huffington Post article quoted him as saying.
Bunning's office -- which reportedly received a great deal of email on the issue -- turned some of it over to Capitol Police, which charged Shore under a federal statute about harassing email and not disclosing identity. It is not clear whether he is being cited for harassment, not disclosing his identity, or both. (Shore's isn't the only Bunning case under investigation by the Capitol Police, according to an article in a Kentucky newspaper.)
The text of the email included the following, in all capital letters: "If this political grandstanding does not end today — we will come to your offices and make our point. You are playing a life and death game here. Do you get it." Shore had also committed a series of more than 30 burglaries in the 1990s, newspaper accounts report.
Conservatives such as Nat Hentoff and Bob Bauman are using the case to attack the federal government. "This case should also be a constitutional test of anonymous First Amendment speech," wrote Hentoff. "This dragnet federal statute, without protest from Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, states that if you intend to "annoy" or "harass any person" by exercising speech, you will be hauled into court."
On the other hand -- to the extent that it matters -- Hentoff and Bauman left out Shore's previous criminal history, his use of a false name and location, or the potentially threatening text cited above, any or all of which might have been factors in the indictment.
Shore has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a $250,000 maximum fine, according to a followup Huffington Post piece.
Surprisingly, neither the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, nor the Electronic Privacy Information Center appears to have yet weighed in on the case.
This shows that emails are and will be used as legal evidence if it is deemed threatening in one way or another. Yes, there is freedom of speech but in this age where the US has a CIO and all of our data is recorded, we got to think twice or three times.
Do I want the FBI to spend its time investigating every grandstanding idiot on the Internet? "No" to that, too. Not that I approve of the rest of their priorities ...
When I was in high school it was all the rage to call in a fake report of a bomb on campus and giggle over being able to force the administration to jump. I don't think false threats are protected speech any more than real ones are.
Do I want the money I contribute to the ACLU to go to defending test cases that are this close to the line? No.
I do. By definition, test cases have to be close to the line. Otherwise, you don't know where the line is. Furthermore, in an adversarial situation, when one side claims that a case is on its own side of the line, lack of opposition effectively cedes that, moving the line.