Annoy the wrong person and pay the price

I thought I’d start the semester off with a little humor.

A man goes on the Internet. He posts something annoying. He posts it under a user name. Then he goes to jail.

The unfortunate thing is that this is no joke.

On Jan. 5, President Bush signed a bill that assigns serious repercussions, including fines and up to two years in jail, to people who anonymously “annoy” other people on the Internet.

This should be hilarious. Who gets to decide what is or is not annoying?

The basic idea of punishing people for saying what they want to on the Internet, a hub of information that connects not just the nation but the entire world, is ridiculous.

But, when considered in conjunction with the Bush administration’s past policies, some of which trampled blatantly on the statutes of the constitution, it is deeply disturbing.

There was the disastrous Patriot Act, which allows the government to do almost anything it wants in the name of fighting terrorism.

Recently, it was revealed that the National Security Agency has been spying on innocent American citizens, listening in on cell phone conversations. Moreover, they’ve been doing this without a warrant.

The First Amendment has been a favorite target of this administration. It states: “Congress shall make no law . abridging the freedom of speech.”

Anyone who has studied under the legendary Bob Cole, professor of journalism at the College, knows that the First Amendment isn’t supposed to protect popular or acceptable speech. It protects unpopular speech. It protects, presumably, annoying speech.

This is not about politics. I harshly shun partisanship. Rather, this is about the constitution. This is about common sense.

How can a president get away with disregarding the founding principles of our country? How can we as a people let him take from us the very things that allowed our nation to become great in the first place? How can we tear down the statutes of our democracy and then pretend to promote democracy in the Middle East?

Democracy is not about everyone agreeing and holding hands around a campfire. It’s about debating and finding the best possible solution from a wide range of opinions. Civilization will go on, even if everyone doesn’t agree. It’s OK to annoy someone. It’s OK to disagree.

This semester, be careful what you say and who you say it to. If you want to protect your identity on the Internet, use the words “middle” or “east” in a cell phone conversation or have an opinion, I reluctantly advise you to think twice.

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