State Bills to Mess With Our Communications Rights

The good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation are keeping watch on a whole slew of state laws in the making aimed at massively restricting our rights to communicate electronically:

“The proposed bills generally prohibit four categories of activity:

1. Possession, development, distribution or use of any “communication device” in connection with a communication service without the express authorization of the service provider.
2. Concealing the origin or destination of any communication from the communication service provider.
3. Possession, development, distribution or use of any “unlawful access device.”
4. Preparation or publication of any “plans or instructions” for making any device having reason to know that such a device will be used to violate the other prohibitions. …

Under existing law, those who have legitimately purchased communication services (e.g., cable TV, satellite, or broadband Internet services) are free to connect whatever they like to the wires they pay for, so long as they do not violate any otherwise applicable law. So, for example, you are free to connect a new TV, PC, VCR or TiVo to a cable television connection that you pay for. …

The proposed super-DMCA statutes reverse this traditional rule. … This provision would make you a criminal for simply connecting a TV, PC, TiVo or VCR (all of which can “receive” communication services) to the cable TV line in your living room without your cable company’s permission. It could also make you a criminal for connecting a Wi-Fi wireless gateway (which can “retransmit” Internet traffic) to your DSL or cable modem line without the permission of your ISP.”

And, let me also note that restrictions along the line of category four above would be clear violations of First Amendment rights to free speech, since they aim at placing a prior restraint on publishing information. It’s important to recognize that there’s nothing illegal about publishing instruction manuals on making bombs, growing marijuana or hacking telephone systems to place free long-distance calls, even if the activities themselves may be illegal. Thus, states cannot (and should not) be able to punish you for publishing plans for how to circumvent your cable company’s stupidity, even if doing so is illegal in your state.

It’s stupid laws like these that everyday convince me more about how absolutely moronic, useless, corrupt and coercive government really is.

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