Rhode Island has repealed a 1989 law that made it illegal to lie online, punishable by fines up to $500 and up to a year in jail.
The Huffington Post reports that Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union, stated:
“This law made virtually the entire population of Rhode Island a criminal. When this bill was enacted nobody had any idea what its ramifications were. Telling fibs may be wrong, but it shouldn’t be criminal activity.”
The LA Times reports that state Representative Chris Blazejewski, who helped repeal the law, stated:
“Lies may make you a scoundrel, cost you a relationship or get you fired, but they shouldn’t make you a criminal unless you’re trying to commit a fraud or some other offense.”
The part of the law that was struck down was actually just the second paragraph of a law that was meant to keep people from lying online for profit. Therefore, lawmakers have kept the first paragraph, which makes it a felony to transmit false data in order to submit “a claim or payment.”
The AP notes that the law was unusually broad when compared to similar laws in different states, and was originally written to stop fraud, con artists, and scammers, but it also included the phrase that outlawed “transmission of false data” even if liars did not stand to profit from their deception.
Because only a few people were ever actually prosecuted for lying online, legislators decided it made no sense to keep a law that is violated every day by so many people.
The Huffinton Post reports that Rep. Blazejerski further stated:
“There are a lot of things we don’t condone in our society that aren’t crimes. We take freedom of speech very seriously in this country and we should be concerned about the real and serious possibility of further erosion to our First Amendment civil liberties.”
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the measure to repeal the lying law.