New Tennessee Law Threatens Freedom of Expression

June 20, 2011
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There’s a new law in Tennessee that threatens freedom of expression and the right to privacy. Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law HB 300, which makes criminals out of those who post images online that cause “emotional distress,” even when the emotionally distressed individual is not the intended recipient.

The language of the bill is extremely vague and open to interpretation; a prosecutor need only convince a jury that an image, phrase, or link was posted with the express purpose of causing distress in order for HB 300 to be invoked. Anyone who sees an image online can become a victim under the auspices of the law as written.

Additionally, the law gives authorities access to the servers of social networking sites based in Tennessee, allowing the search of images and logs without a warrant when certain conditions are met.

In a world where comics are moving with increasing speed from print to digital, a law like this threatens not just the creators and retailers who post images online, but even readers who do something as generally innocuous as posting an image on Facebook.

For a look at the HB 300, visit the Ars Technica website, read Eugene Volokh’s blog, or check out the Media Coalition’s summary of the bill.