[WTF?] Tennessee Bans Posting Offensive Images Online

What could possibly go wrong here? So, about those civil liberties you appeared to be enjoying…

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law into effect last week that makes it illegal to “transmit or display an image” on the internet that is likely to “frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress” to any individual who might be exposed to said image. As Ars Technica points out, Tennessee is becoming a pretty sucktastic place to use the internet- it was also recently decided in the state that misappropriation of your Netflix login constitutes “theft of services.”

The frightening thing about the harassing images legislation is that it does not matter with whom the image was shared- if it is exposed to the wrong set of eyes, you could wind up in jail for a year and incur fines:

The ban on distressing images, which was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam last week, is also an update to existing law. Tennessee law already made it a crime to make phone calls, send emails, or otherwise communicate directly with someone in a manner the sender “reasonably should know” would “cause emotional distress” to the recipient. If the communciation lacked a “legitimate purpose,” the sender faced jail time… for image postings, the “emotionally distressed” individual need not be the intended recipient. Anyone who sees the image is a potential victim. If a court decides you “should have known” that an image you posted would be upsetting to someone who sees it, you could face months in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

Aside from significant First Amendment concerns inherent in legislation such as this, Ars also goes into how, scarily, the law reaches its tentacles into the realm of private communications made across social networks. Although certain protections are in place for emails, one-on-one messages via services like Facebook are being treated differently.

“‘Images or communications’ posted to a social networking site by offering ‘specific and articulable facts,’suggesting that the information sought is ‘relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation'” could be accessible by law enforcement- seemingly in direct conflict with constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure in the absence of a warrant.

Does this freak you out at all? Is it possible to retain privacy rights in the digital age, or are proponents fighting a losing battle?