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