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New Tennessee law makes it illegal to display an image that causes ‘emotional distress’

New Tennessee law makes it illegal to display an image that causes ‘emotional distress’ 

By Nicolas Mendoza | 06.10.11 | 6:14 pm

Last week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law that criminalizes “transmitting or displaying” any image that under a “reasonable expectation” might “frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress” to anyone who sees it. This includes not only images posted on the internet, but also television and any other “electronic communications service” currently in existence.

Essentially, the law allows anyone with a well-thought out argument to get anyone they want — including journalists — thrown into jail for up to a year or fined up to $2,500 for sharing a picture or other image.

The law has already been denounced as “pretty clearly unconstitutional” by conservative legal scholar Eugene Volokh. He notes that if someone is accused of transmitting an offending image, the burden is on them to prove that they have a “legitimate” reason for posting the image, and that the legitimacy in question would be determined by the “prosecutor, judge, or jury” in question.

He further notes that images that might “reasonably” fall under the law’s very broad purview could be of a religious, political or journalistic nature — all of which are forms of speech that the First Amendment was explicitly crafted to protect.

According to Ars Technica, the law also expands police rights allowing them to access anything posted on social networking sites by merely providing facts indicating that the material is relevant to a criminal investigation.

Together with the state’s recently passed law banning the sharing of account passwords of “subscription entertainment services” such as Netflix, it’s clear that Tennessee is going to be taking center stage in the legal battle over which rights can be exercised on the internet.




Asked by SpiritedWitch at 3:00 PM on Jun. 11, 2011 in Politics & Current Events

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Answers (16)
  • Going to be overturned before they can ever implement it.

    Answer by NotPanicking at 3:03 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • What in the hell could he have been thinking?

    My first thought was that he was running for re-election soon and could use it to nail opponents via their campaign sites. It can be twisted to fit just about any image. Hell, you could claim the default CM background in this section causes "emotional distress" because you're an alcoholic and it looks like champagne bubbles, or you're ttc and it looks like eggs in an IVF petri dish, or you're trying to lose weight and they represent "fat". Sky's the limit on that one.

    Answer by NotPanicking at 3:14 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • Who's moral compass do we operate on? Who decides what is considered reasonable or distressing?  Slippery slope.  I agree that it will be overturned.


    Answer by QuinnMae at 3:11 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • I agree with np it will never stick.

    Answer by tnmomofive at 3:05 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • Freedom of won't fly

    Answer by ochsamom at 3:06 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • I will add that if this is a factual discription of the law then Haslam must have had a brain fart.What in the hell could he have been thinking?

    Answer by tnmomofive at 3:09 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • That is a thought np.I voted for him but in noway do I agree with this!

    Answer by tnmomofive at 3:18 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • It's called FREEDOM OF SPEECH and he just violated it big time.

    Answer by Roadfamily6now at 8:37 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • Who needs free speech anyway... ~ USR

    No one who is willing to give it away or doesn't care when someone attempts to control it ~ and no one who thinks ot only applies to them and all others should shut up.

    OP, I agree with NP on this one. There is no chance this will stand a court challenge (although it might efffectively shut up WBC if it stood).

    Answer by Farmlady09 at 9:11 PM on Jun. 11, 2011

  • Hope someone takes that to Court really soon. There is practically nothing that doesn't offend someone, someplace.

    Answer by meriana at 2:57 PM on Jun. 12, 2011