Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Absurd (Unconstitutional) Photo Manipulation Bill

This post by K`Tetch first appeared at the Pirate Party of Georgia Site
If you are following us on Facebook or Twitter (and if not, why not?), you’ll notice we posted two news stories about the Georgia state Government this past week. One was on a broadband limitation bill, and the other relates to online photo manipulation.

Our response to the broadband bill was published yesterday, but the response to the photo-manipulation bill requires more detail than a simple press release can convey.

As you can probably guess, we’re obviously in opposition to this. It’s a clear example of tantrum-based legislation ("I don't like this, so it needs to be dealt with"), driven by a deep ignorance of the fundamental laws of the United States, and the principles of which the country stands.

Supporting this bill, State Rep Earnest Smith (D-125) of Augusta said ‘They are vulgar. This is about being vulgar. We’re becoming a nation of vulgar people” when interviewed by Fox News.

He also added that it’s not about the First Amendment, Everyone has a right to privacy,” he told “No one has a right to make fun of anyone. It’s not a First Amendment right”

Unfortunately for him, it IS.

He wants to try and outlaw a form of characterization that is valid speech and often contains a political message. Rep Smith has in fact been targeted by some of the very creations he seeks to outlaw, as a means of protest to his bill – a very clear use for political speech, an activity protected by the First Amendment, and a use that undermines the very bill and its intent.

There are further blows to his plans, as it’s unlikely if passed to stand judicial review, thanks to cases like Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988) which definitively protected parody under the 1st Amendment.

That said, the intent behind the bill is a lot nobler than many have made out. The bill was first authored by Rep. Dickerson of Conyers, who created it in response to online attacks against a teen-aged girl in her district, according to reports earlier this week

That’s fair enough in many ways, and you can see the thought process there a bit better, however there are other alternatives, including harassment laws that would work better, and have fewer secondary consequences, and not even touch on First Amendment protected speech at all.

It’s the difference between a girl, and an elected government official, and that’s a rather major one.

Instead of trying to outlaw and criminalize the actions, the specific activities, there should be a focus instead of the intent behind the actions. Was the actions against the girl a bad thing? Probably, we have no details of the case in question there, but the actions against Rep Smith are clear political protest, which are protected. If his skin is so thin that he can’t stand it, then perhaps he should get out of public office. If he feels the actions significantly harm him in a significantly detrimental way outside political discourse, then there are already libel laws he could use.

Likewise, there are significant vulgarity laws in place as well, cementing America's position as puritan-era prudes, at least in public.

While many politicians hate to be seen in any sort of bad light (because it harms their chances of keeping their jobs at election time) trying to outlaw things based on ‘morality’ or ‘vulgarity’ is actually quite offensive to many people, as it imposes someone else's value-system on them.

Nevertheless, this is a BAD bill, and has already raised a significant amount of attention worldwide, mostly focusing on the ridicule of Rep. Smith and the law, and as a side-note, creating a wider audience for those pictures he doesn't like.

You can also bet that even if this law went through, it wouldn’t stop people just over the Savannah river from his Augusta district, in North Augusta, South Carolina, from creating and distributing those images of him. So as well as failing the Constitutionality test, and the Appropriateness test, it also fails the effectiveness test.

Quite honestly, the best thing Reps. Smith, Dickerson, Hughley, Stephenson, Dawkins-Haigler and Dukes can do is drop the bill, and apologize for the idiocy of introducing it, and once more holding Georgia up for international ridicule. And of course, if they really want to learn about how this should be dealt with, they’re more than welcome to contact the Pirate Party of Georgia, where we can explain to them the way things work.

In the meantime, they should probably go and take a civics class at their local elementary or middle school, to learn all about things like the Constitution, and how you can’t abridge speech like this; or superseed the Constitution when they want to with a lazy one-line section 2.

32 All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed.

If you don't know what laws you might be in conflict with, you either have too many laws, or you've not thought though your proposed bill enough. Either way, you've not thought before acting.

This post by K`Tetch first appeared at the Pirate Party of Georgia Site

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