NY seeks Internet violence law

May 13, 2008 1:59:31 PM PDT
Reacting to recent Internet postings like "Dude gets savagely put to sleep" and "Brutal girl fight," several Republican state senators vowed Tuesday to criminalize videotaping and sharing assaults online, saying it victimizes people a second time. "They make me sick," said Sen. John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican. "We should never, ever, ever glorify this type of behavior."

Long faulted for graphic sex content, the Web is drawing increasing fire for what some critics call "violence porn," postings that range from teen fights and beatings to homeless bashing and even videos of deaths, like the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl by terrorists after his 2002 kidnapping in Pakistan.

The senators' new bill would address one aspect of what sponsors see as the growing anti-social trend and establish the additional crime of "unlawful violent recording." It would become an additional felony to commit assault while recording it for distribution and a new felony for persuading others to do so.

Offenders could face 1 1/2 to 4 years in prison, Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn said. Juveniles would go to Family Court.

"Assault is already a crime. Conspiracy is already a crime," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. It's a serious issue that deserves long and deliberate consideration - raising questions about videos of brutal crimes shot by journalists or passers-by - and shouldn't be subject to "grandstanding" in the closing weeks of a legislative session, she said.

The senators said the problem is a new area, they're just figuring out how to address it, and they hope the Democrat-controlled Assembly and other states will follow. They also said it's especially alarming for them as parents, when some kids are posting violent videos in hopes of getting attention and creating copycats.

Attorney Lawrence Walters, who handles free speech cases for Internet providers around the country, said similar discussions are happening all over but New York would be the first to enact a law, which he sees having no chance of surviving court review.

"Any time that you attempt to criminalize media based on its content, that is antithetical to the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech," Walters said, questioning what it would mean for news broadcasts. "The only type of media that the courts have agreed to criminalize, or authorize to be prohibited, are obscenity and child pornography. Everything else is presumed to be protected by the Constitution."

Sen. Joseph Robach disagreed. Once the video is created, showing it may be subject to a First Amendment right, he said. "What created it - being violent - is not the First Amendment right," he said.

Lawrence said some of these issues can already be addressed in civil courts.

"We've dealt with some of the fallout from the bum fights-type media, where later on somebody who was involved in the filming comes back and says somebody was paid to assault me," the Florida-based attorney said. "That would be a civil claim for damages. That's permitted in our society if somebody feels they were taken advantage of."

The New York Senate last year passed a measure introduced by Robach that would establish a felony for computer encryption that conceals crimes or criminals' identities. That bill did not advance in the Assembly, where prospects for the anti-violence measure appear uncertain.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver declined to comment Tuesday, saying he hadn't seen the details.

Meanwhile, a new law passed by both houses requiring convicted sex offenders to tell authorities of their online screen names awaited only Gov. David Paterson's signature. It's an effort to keep them from trolling for victims on popular Web sites frequented by young people and children.