A proposed Oregon law that could have criminalized tweets about Occupy Wall Street has died in committee due to public outcry.
State senate bill 1534 would have made illegal the “use of electronic communication to solicit two or more persons to commit [a] specific crime at [a] specific time and location.” The now-dead bill would have carried penalties for using Twitter, Facebook, etc. to call on others to engage in criminal activity as severe as the punishment for actually committing the act.
Oregon State Sen. Doug Whitsett, the chief sponsor of the bill, said he was targeting “flash mob crimes,” in which many people descend on a specific location at a specific time to commit a crime, a scenario that was actually not completely made up: a “mob” of four people who “may be using some of the social media such as Facebook and Twitter to schedule an event if you will” robbed a Victoria’s Secret in Georgetown last summer, and gang members in New York reportedly used Twitter to coordinate the annual “Crips Holiday.”
But criminals could hypothetically use Twitter to coordinate the robbery of a shoe store, Sen. Whitsett said, by way of example. “It’s almost impossible to anticipate, almost impossible to stop and almost impossible to prosecute.”
That would have made the contents and timbre of tweeted communication related to the largely peaceful Occupy Wall Street protest illegal, as calls for “direct action” to “shut down the corporations” or “occupy Zuccotti Park” would be crimes under the bill, users on Reddit and Twitter pointed out.
“SB1534 is yet another egregious attempt to suppress the organization of activism on the internet and generally criminalize the populace of Oregon,” said one Reddit user with the handle “maxp,” who posted a copy of a message he sent to state senator Chip Shields.
No one from the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union testified, although Beck Straus, legislative director of the ACLU of Oregon, said they “had some concerns.” Sen. Whitsett said many of the people who did testify against the bill seemed to be part of the Occupy movement.
When Betabeat asked the Republican senator what he thought about concerns raised about the impact of this legislation on protest activities, he said the Oregon Legislative Council had declared that the language was not overly broad and that the only other way to write the bill would be to either individually enumerate the crimes covered or explicitly enumerate and exempt crimes that would not be covered.
The bill was not intended to impact peaceful demonstrations or civil disobedience, Sen. Whitsett said, comparing the solicitation of a crime to attempting to hire a contract killer. He repeatedly emphasized the fact that the state would have to prove “willful intent” to successfully prosecute the crime.
The bill was picked up on Twitter by Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous and ultimately died without a floor vote due to testimony and massive outcry from the public. “Given some of the concern that has been expressed… if I or anyone else introduced that bill again it would probably have certain omissions,” Sen. Whitsett said.