Law Against White Lies Repealed In Rhode Island
by Danica Coto on 11/03/13
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — If you've ever lied to a potential Internet date about your weight, texted your spouse that you were someplace you weren't or emailed mom to say how much you love that ugly new sweater, you were breaking the law if you did it in Rhode Island.
But state lawmakers have now decided that white lies online should no longer be a crime. The General Assembly voted this month to repeal an obscure 1989 law that made fibbing on the Internet a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $500 and as much as a year in prison. Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the measure.
"This law made virtually the entire population of Rhode Island a criminal," said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union. "When this bill was enacted nobody had any idea what its ramifications were. Telling fibs may be wrong, but it shouldn't be criminal activity."
The law — which legal experts say was unusually broad compared to similar laws across the country — was written to stop fraud, con artists and scammers, but it also outlawed the "transmission of false data" regardless of whether liars stood to profit from their deception or not.
Only a handful of people were ever prosecuted for lying online, but legislators said it made no sense to keep a law on the books that is violated so often by so many people. Rep. Chris Blazejewski, who proposed eliminating the law, said it was likely unconstitutional.
Lies may make you a scoundrel, cost you a relationship or get you fired, but they shouldn't make you a criminal unless you're trying to commit fraud or some other offense, he said.
"There are a lot of things we don't condone in our society that aren't crimes," Blazejewski said. "We take freedom of speech very seriously in this country and we should be concerned about the real and serious possibility of further erosion to our First Amendment civil liberties."