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Washington State 'Cyberstalking' Case Based on Unconstitutional Law
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a Washington State judge to dismiss "cyberstalking" charges stemming from rude comments left on a blog. In an amicus brief filed today, EFF argues that the case is based on an unconstitutional law that criminalizes free speech.
The defendant in the case, Brandy Edwards, created an online dating profile under a pseudonym and used it to communicate with Amanda Westmont, the ex-wife of a friend of Edwards. Months later – after the online relationship ended – Edwards posted three critical comments on Westmont's publicly accessible blog, still using the pseudonym. Employing obscenities, the posts referred to Westmont as "full of herself," a "nutcase," and a "whack-job."
Westmont deleted the posts and reported them to the police. A year later, Edwards was charged with two counts of "cyberstalking" under Washington State law. The first charge is based on Edwards anonymously and repeatedly communicating with Westmont for the purpose of "harassing and embarrassing" another person, although the conversation was consensual. The second charge is based on Edwards' use of "obscene" language for the purpose of "harassing or embarrassing." The problem with the Washington State statute is that it outlaws anonymous or obscene speech intended to "embarrass" without defining what that broad term means. In the brief filed today, EFF argues that the law is unconstitutional and the case should be dismissed.
"While we may not like a lot of what people say online, the First Amendment allows for rudeness and other impolitic comments," said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. "The way this law is written, it could end up criminalizing things like posting a negative review on a website like Yelp."
Venkat Balasubramani of FOCAL PLLC in Seattle, Washington, is EFF's local counsel in the case.
For the full amicus brief:
Electronic Frontier Foundation