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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

State Targets Gun Blogs and Forums, Justice Targets Anonymous Blog Commenters

Paul Bedard of The Washington Examiner reports the NRA believes a new proposed rule by the State Department could have a chilling affect on the online discussion of firearms:
In updating regulations governing international arms sales, State is demanding that anyone who puts technical details about arms and ammo on the web first get the OK from the federal government — or face a fine of up to $1 million and 20 years in jail.

"Gunsmiths, manufacturers, reloaders, and do-it-yourselfers could all find themselves muzzled under the rule and unable to distribute or obtain the information they rely on to conduct these activities," said the NRA in a blog posting.

"This latest regulatory assault, published in the June 3 issue of the Federal Register, is as much an affront to the First Amendment as it is to the Second," warned the NRA's lobbying shop. "Your action is urgently needed to ensure that online blogs, videos, and web forums devoted to the technical aspects of firearms and ammunition do not become subject to prior review by State Department bureaucrats before they can be published," it added.
This isn't the only example of the federal government targeting online discussion.  Claiming that anonymous commenters on's web site may have made actual threats against a judge, the Justice Department wants to know the identity of those commenters.  This from the Volokh Conspiracy:
The commenters were opining on a post by Reason editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie, expressing their ire at the federal district judge who sentenced Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. The rationale for the subpoena is that the commenters may have been transmitting “true threats” in “interstate or foreign commerce” in violation of this federal statute.

For reasons White explains, the comments almost certainly do not qualify as “true threats” against the judge. They are, rather, the kind of nasty and stupid vitriol that is all too common in anonymous comments on the internet. For example, one of the commenters wrote that “judges like these… should be taken out back and shot,” another opined that “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman,” and a third replied that “I’d prefer a hellish place on Earth be reserved for her as well.”

Nasty stuff, indeed. To put it mildly, comments such as these are hardly valuable contributions to public discourse. But if federal prosecutors investigated every similar anonymous comment on the internet, we could probably devote the entire federal budget to hunting down these types of blogosphere trolls, and still not find them all.
The government just keeps finding new ways to be more intrusive in our daily lives.

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