The Absurdity of "Cyber" Laws

There seems to be an increasing trend, in U.S. politics at least, of pushing “cyber” bills at both state and federal levels. The odd thing is that, when the bills are not dangerously infringing upon civil liberties, they’re ultimately redundant.

Take “cyberbullying” for example. This term has been a big hit with the media. Students have been harassing other students for as long as there have been schools, and we already have laws that amply cover the issue. Harassment is already illegal. As are assault and battery. Slanderous and libelous statements, whether they are online or offline, can also be dealt with using the existing legal tools.

But if you add the magic wild west of the Internet into the equation, apparently there’s a need for more draconian laws. Criminalize speech that can be (subjectively, of course) defined as offensive, give schools the power to reach beyond their authority and into the personal lives of citizens when they are outside of school walls, et cetera. That totally makes sense. Why not just let people deal with their problems using the laws that already adequately cover the issue?

As lawstudent2 put it:

…there is not a single crime that a human can do with a computer that is not already covered by generally applicable law, full stop. […] There is no such thing as cyberfraud, cybertheft or cyberbullying. Those are just the ways that old, stupid people refer to fraud, theft and bullying that ‘use computers.’ There are no laws about screwdrivermurder, gunrobbery or peppersprayassault, because it is utterly idiotic to qualify laws by the specific instruments used in the regulated activity. Murder, robbery and assault all have generalized definitions, and, importantly, the distinctions within these regulated activities, such as “intent,” “with a deadly weapon,” “malice aforethought,” do not cover specific modalities of action. They cover generalized categories.

There has been a barrage of this cybernonsense lately. States have been passing laws against “cyberbullying.” Congress has been trying to pass CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, a vague and far-reaching bill that encourages surveillance of internet traffic in the name of “cybersecurity.” I’ve heard the terms “cyberfraud” and “cyberterrorism” thrown around a bit as well.

Leaving alone the fact that tacking “cyber” onto the front of another word sounded cliché and out of the loop in the ‘90s, legislation with the prefix has yet to be anything other than well-meaning but pointless or a disgusting infringement upon civil liberties.

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