The Oregon Bill That Would Criminalize Twitter

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UPDATE: The Oregonian reports that the bill died in committee today.

Under a bill debated today in Oregon, that tweet could be illegal.

The bill, SB 1534, would make it a felony to use “electronic communication to solicit two or more persons to commit [a] specific crime at [a] specific time and location.” The punishment could include up to 5 years in prison and a $125,000 fine.

Critics worry that the bill is so broadly construed that it could outlaw everything from tweets about student sit-ins to Facebook posts calling for the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. In Oregon, it might become a tool to crack down on Occupy Portland, which is calling for the nonviolent shutdown of corporations such as Bank of America and ExxonMobil later this month.

Earlier today, activists posted contact information for the bill’s 11 co-sponsors and urged allies to call to voice their opposition. None of the lawmakers could be reached for comment this afternoon. In many cases, their phones were busy.

The author of the bill, Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, defended it during a public hearing today. He wrote it to prevent people from saying: “‘We are all going to arrive at Joe’s Jewelry Store at 4:55 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon and we’re going to rob him blind,'” he said. “This has been happening. At least 8 percent of the retailers in the United States have experienced that type of situation.”

Still, speakers at the hearing overwhelmingly opposed the bill. “The law would inhibit somebody like Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Eric Coker, an Oregon State PHD student. “It would have prevented something as simple as the Selma Bridge protest. All those people, if they had heard about it through electronic communication, they would all have been subject to a Class C felony.”

Dan Meek, an attorney representing the Oregon Progressive Party, added: “I have to say, this is the kind of law that I would expect to see in Myanmar, Turkmenistan, North Korea or Zimbabwe, but not in Oregon.”

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