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Florida Judge Upholds Conviction By Defining "Email" To Include IMs 412

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the arguing-semantics dept.
Bennett Haselton writes "The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of Michael Simmons, who sexually a solicited a 13-year-old girl (really a sheriff's deputy) via instant messages. What was unusual about this case was that he was convicted under a Florida 'harmful to minors' law that was specifically written to cover only e-mail."

Simmons was also convicted under a different law against luring a minor via the Internet, and there seems little doubt that he violated that law. But the harmful to minors law is separate; it prohibits "transmission" of data that is "harmful to minors", and includes the clause: "(b) 'Transmit' means to send to a specific individual known by the defendant to be a minor via electronic mail."

I think that how one reacts to this decision is basically a litmus test for how much one cares about the rule of law. The state legislature obviously would have included instant messages in the statute if they'd thought about it at the time, especially if they thought that someone would later try to use that as a loophole to escape conviction. And if Simmons had gotten off, the legislature almost certainly would have amended the law to include instant messages. But it's hard to argue with the fact that the law as written was limited to e-mail, and did not cover the instant messages that Simmons sent.

Justice Peggy Quince, writing unanimously for the Supreme Court, acknowledged this objection but answered it by arguing, "To the extent that the term 'electronic mail' is not sufficiently defined by the statute, we interpret it as including both email and instant message communications sent to a specific individual." But what was her basis for saying that "electronic mail" was not sufficiently defined in the first place? She also wrote in a footnote on page 11, "We agree with the First District's interpretation of 'electronic mail' as including both email and electronic mail sent by instant messaging." The phrase "electronic mail sent by instant messaging" sounds like something Ted Stevens would say.

But Justice Quince won't be subject to the same ridicule as Ted Stevens, and she knows it. It's not as if many people will come forward to criticize the court's decision, only to be attacked with cries of "Either you're with us, or you're with the terrori -- I mean, the child molesters!" However, she could have taken a stand in favor of the rule of law, by saying that Simmons clearly didn't violate the law against transmitting harmful to minors material by e-mail, and if the legislature wants the law to cover IMs, they have to go back and change it. (It's not as if he'd walk away with a clean record, since he'd still have a conviction for luring a minor for sex.) It is discouraging that neither the District Court nor any of the judges on the Florida Supreme Court chose to take that stand.

Ironically, this court decision may partly help the ACLU and other groups when they challenge other state laws that prohibit the communication of certain types of material "by e-mail" -- they could argue that the definition of "e-mail" is unconstitutionally vague. If the judge peers down at them and says "What the hell are you talking about? Everybody knows what e-mail is", the ACLU can argue, "Not necessarily. The Florida Supreme Court thinks that it includes instant messages. And, Your Honor, since judges are the wisest beings in the universe, if even they can't figure it out, what chance do the rest of us have?"

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Florida Judge Upholds Conviction By Defining "Email" To Include IMs

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  • I'm #1 (Score:2, Insightful)

    That's what happens when the people who write the laws don't understand the technology the new law governs. #1
    • Re:I'm #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Fozzyuw (950608) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:15PM (#16933704)

      Hmmm... interesting politically moral question.

      Do we do what's right with regards to justice?

      Or do we do what's right with regards to (legal) policy?

      I would side with the judge and say this law should include IM's and any electronic communication, VoIP, blogs (MySpace), etc. However, this does leave open the attack for a different case, where it's not as obvious or the crime is not as heinous, to be exploited in the same regards... think RIAA.

      I think this is a situation where one has to weight the seriousness of the crime against the importance of the law.

      This makes me think of the case in Wisconsin [channel3000.com] where 2 guys saw a picture in the newspaper of a 21 year old girl who recently died in an accident. They thought she looked pretty so they went and bought some condoms and dug up her grave. They where caught at the cemetery, before anything could come about, but since there were no laws on the book, they couldn't stick any charges to these guys.

      This is a situation, again, where the law should be capable of proper punishment of these people and not just some petty crime because 'there was nothing on the books specifically'. In a perfect world, we would all agree and we wouldn't need written laws because we could just file things case by case, but that's just not realistic.

      Cheers,
      Fozzy

      • by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhockingNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:41PM (#16934358) Homepage Journal
        The prime example I usually bring up is the interstate commerce clause [wikipedia.org]. Congress used it to justify writing laws to promote civil rights, beyond the powers granted to them by the Constitution (specifically, the 10th amendment [wikipedia.org] in the Bill of Rights). I'm a big fan of the motivation, but I've always questioned the means...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by anagama (611277)
          I haven't RTFA'd, but the summary says "Florida Supreme Court" which means in almost all liklihood, federal law had absolutely nothing to do with this. It seems the question involves an issue of state law -- particularly, the definition of "email". Someone needs to look up the actual FL State code to see what the definition is. It may well be vague. If it is vague, traditional rules of statutory construction allow the court to interpret it beyond plain language. They do this by looking at legislative i
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by anagama (611277)
            On second thought, I'm full of it -- ignore me. Anything interenet related can easily cross borders so the commerce clause may well have effect.
      • Re:I'm #1 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:56PM (#16934744)
        Laws are intended to be as literal as possible in most cases. Sure, there's some leeway in things to allow for things that aren't quite right but still obviously intended in the original. The example of gravedigging perverts isn't such a hideous failing of law, the whole point of the US legal system is to allow freedom unless it's something deemed important enough to dictate laws.

        I think this is a case where technology moved too fast for the law to keep absolute specifics in place, but it's not a big deal. Is an IM really *so* different from an e-mail message? Besides the speed of communication and responses they are by definition almost identical. So what if they use different network protocols? That's like saying someone's complaint is invalid because they use an IMAP mail client and the law only mentions POP3.
        • Re:I'm #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @02:16PM (#16936816)
          In particular, is there some reason to think that the *legal* definition of "electronic mail" perfectly coincides with the common usage of "email"? I would not assume so. The fact that SMS and IM are not called "email" is simply a marketing decision. Let's say google optimized gmail so that one gmail user sending an email to another gmail user never uses SMTP. Is it still email? I would say, "sure." If the law made reference to SMTP, POP, etc, then there would clearly be a distinction... and it would have been silly to write the law that way.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:41AM (#16932750)
    Since judges can decide that 'e-mail' is vague enough to consider any and all forms of electronic message transmission covered by that term, somehow laws that specify 'e-mail' are somehow delegitimized?

    I think you've painted yourself into a corner with that argument.
    • by TemporalBeing (803363) <bm_witnessNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:52AM (#16933062) Homepage Journal
      Since judges can decide that 'e-mail' is vague enough to consider any and all forms of electronic message transmission covered by that term, somehow laws that specify 'e-mail' are somehow delegitimized? I think you've painted yourself into a corner with that argument.
      Actually, the stronger issue is that companies are required to maintain e-mail records for X number of years - in case of court cases, audits, etc. This ruling now makes companies accountable for maintaining IM traffic (and possibly other similar data) as well. THAT will be of grave issue.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rifter (147452)

        Actually, the stronger issue is that companies are required to maintain e-mail records for X number of years - in case of court cases, audits, etc. This ruling now makes companies accountable for maintaining IM traffic (and possibly other similar data) as well. THAT will be of grave issue.

        That's a misunderstanding both of how the system works and of the ruling itself. First off, this ruling only applies to Florida. Second the only thing that was decided here was that the anti-solicitation law passed in F

    • I thought there was a certain format email messages had to have, and a certain way they were sent and recieve among servers. Isn't that how you define them?

      Note: I clearly do not know what I'm talking about.
      • by 1u3hr (530656) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:07PM (#16933484)
        I thought there was a certain format email messages had to have, and a certain way they were sent and recieve among servers. Isn't that how you define them?

        That's how geeks would define it. SMTP, POP, RFCs.... But the law was talking about electronic messages sent to a particular person. That definition includes IMs. I don't see that as much of a stretch myself.

    • by cultrhetor (961872) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:08PM (#16933508) Journal

      Just because e-mail isn't defined by legal statute doesn't mean that this judge was wrong: e-mail does have an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is generally recognized as the lexicographic index to the English language.

      e-mail (noun):
      1. messages distributed by electronic means from one computer user to one or more recipients via a network
      2. the system of sending messages by such electronic means

      (verb) 3. To send such a message or use such a system.
      That sort of definition would almost have to include IMs and messages posted to a message board or newsgroup, wouldn't it?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Afrosheen (42464)
        Well if you are going to broadly define it, as the judge has in this case and how the law has outlined it, many things fall into that category.

        "1. messages distributed by electronic means from one computer user to one or more recipients via a network
        2. the system of sending messages by such electronic means"

        You could call a Sidekick a computer, since it does alot more than just make phone calls, and the cellphone provider attaches it to a network..so under this definition, a text message from someon
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hatta (162192)
        Just because e-mail isn't defined by legal statute doesn't mean that this judge was wrong: e-mail does have an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is generally recognized as the lexicographic index to the English language.

        The OED got it wrong. If it's not RFC 2821 it's not email.

        Not surprising really, english geeks don't usually know much about technology.
  • The judge probably did the right thing. The man was still attempting to socillicit from an underage girl over the internet, who cares excatly which communications protocol was used?

    The decision was definiately in the spirit of the law, even if it does mean "bending" the letter of the law.
    • Re:Probably right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by spellraiser (764337) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:48AM (#16932962) Journal

      This only goes to show how stupid an futile it is to create special laws for the Internet. Solicitation of minors, or any other communication, is just that, no matter what medium is used to convey it.

      • by mgessner (46612)
        You put into words what I was thinking very well.

        The intent of the individual involved was clear, so I'm wondering what difference it makes if he'd used a telephone, instant message, email, or IRC.
    • Re:Probably right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:52AM (#16933072)

      The judge probably did the right thing. The man was still attempting to socillicit from an underage girl over the internet, who cares excatly which communications protocol was used?

      I do. If you take the time to look up the millions of obscure laws written half in Latin, the least you should be able to expect is that the law be enforced as written. This guy was already guilty of violating a different law and their was no reason why another "on the internet" law should have been applied.

      The difference is between living in a state where people are ruled by laws and living in one where people arbitrarily enforce their beliefs upon you. Just because you agree with the beliefs in this case does not make it any less wrong. Two wrongs don't make a right, and that is exactly what is being done here.

      • I understand where you are coming from-- "we are a society of laws and not men".

        Realistically, ever since we were founded as a nation, our lawmen have made interpretations of the law to let go people they felt would not be a problem (or who had power... or who they liked... or who was a relative) and other interpretations to stop criminals and dangerous people (and those in groups they didn't like... or with a skin color they didn't like... or who they personally disliked).

        Where you are coming from is the "
      • their was no reason why another "on the internet" law should have been applied.

        I'm sure if you ask the legislators responsible, they will unabashedly say the reason was "to punish them more than before." More charges = higher score.
    • by finkployd (12902)
      The decision was definitely in the spirit of the law, even if it does mean "bending" the letter of the law.

      I'm glad the guy was convicted, but this is still a dangerous road to go down. What other technical concepts can a judge stretch and break to get the desired result in court?

      The fault partially lies with the legislature for writing a law which is limited to email (did they specify RFC 2821 or something?) which really should hold true no matter what communication protocol was used. Why is email special?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Maxo-Texas (864189)
      I agree with you that the judge was "clever" to misinterpret the law to catch a scumbag.

      However... this is from the post right above yours:

      Actually, the stronger issue is that companies are required to maintain e-mail records for X number of years - in case of court cases, audits, etc. This ruling now makes companies accountable for maintaining IM traffic (and possibly other similar data) as well. THAT will be of grave issue.

      The rule of unintended consequences is in full effect. For example, in my great st
    • Why not charge him soliciting an underage girl then instead of changing the definition of email?

      Next time i hope they charge someone who actually used email but sent it to an 18 year old girl. Then he can redefine 18 to mean 17 and charge him under the same law. I mean why let these guys slip by, just because the girl had a birthday the day before.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aardvarkjoe (156801)

      The decision was definiately in the spirit of the law, even if it does mean "bending" the letter of the law.

      I don't even know that this is really bending the law. Mail is just a system of sending messages, and so instant messaging definitely qualifies as "electronic mail" in the general sense of the term. Some instant messaging services even save messages on central servers to be delivered when the recipient is available -- in that case, even the function of the instant message is essentially the same as

  • I'll bet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:43AM (#16932818)
    You won't hear social conservatives crying "activist judges!" about this one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HBI (604924)
      That's because this is a bad example of judicial activism. The job of judges is to clarify what law means and apply it.

      If the judge had decided that the law didn't apply, not because it specifically mentioned e-mail, but because the judge in question thought it was morally reprehensible that someone was going to jail for engaging in online sex/attempting to meet with a 13 year old. Then, cited foreign law to back him/her up, that would be judicial activism as practiced by the US Supreme Court and lesser c
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Politburo (640618)
        The cases that make reference to foreign law do not use that law as the main basis for the decision. Indeed, foreign law was only included in Lawrence as a rebuttal to a point advanced by Burger in Bowers. This blurb puts it best:

        Scalia and the House Republicans, for effect really, are mixing up the difference between listening to foreign ideas and obeying foreign commands.

        Slate article on foreign law in opinions [slate.com].

  • by lymond01 (314120) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:44AM (#16932832)
    Often in the court system, these legal loopholes (be they ill-defined laws or what have you) allow criminals to go free. The judge took common sense and applied it, something judges are allowed to do, as lawyers try to circumvent the law by defeating it with specifics. Kudos to intelligent decision-making, and it's time to rewrite the law from "e-mail" to "electronic correspondence".
    • by crossmr (957846)
      I think a judgment like that should be made on condition. The condition being the legislature sees an immediate problem with the wording of the law and fixes it. You get a free pass on spirit the first time. If the law isn't clarified, you don't. Otherwise just make a law "If you do anything bad you goto jail!" the spirit of it is obvious, but the scope is ridiculous.
      • Interesting interview with Warren Buffet last night.

        He said he specifically avoids sending a detailed code of conduct and ethics to his executives because he believed that would encourage them to look for loopholes in it. Instead he just says something like you did above like "you are responsible for the good name of the company. Don't do anything that would damage it."

      • by quigonn (80360)
        Please learn about the concept of teleological interpretations of laws. Simply put, if the law says, "sex offense against minors in emails", you can come to the conclusion that the spirit and purpose of the law is to protect minors from sex offense via personal electronic communication, which makes it not only apply to email, but to instant messaging as well. Unfortunately, there is no good Wikipedia on this topic in English, so I can only refer to the German article, which describes the different forms of
    • by finkployd (12902) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:56AM (#16933206) Homepage
      it's time to rewrite the law from "e-mail" to "electronic correspondence".

      Why even specify that? It is illegal to solicit a minor for sex, it does not matter if you do it with email, carrier pigeon, or two plastic cups on a string. What makes email, or even electronic correspondence special?

      There would be a lot less loopholes if legislatures would stop trying to be clever and writing laws for specific implementations of technology (which will always out pace them) and just stick to the concepts of what is illegal and what is not.

      Finkployd
      • I'm intrigued by your ideas, would like to subscribe to your newsletter =) Seriously though, government (not just the judicial branch) would function much more smoothly if people simply applied common sense to everyday problems.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rogerborg (306625)
        Apparently it's also illegal to solicit an adult for sex if they happen to type "I AM OWNLY THIRTEEEN LOL!". Shall we discuss Thoughtcrimes now?
        • by finkployd (12902)
          Apparently it's also illegal to solicit an adult for sex if they happen to type "I AM OWNLY THIRTEEEN LOL!". Shall we discuss Thoughtcrimes now?

          So what is your suggestion to fix this? Throw out all "intent" based laws and require that a 13 year old actually be raped before catching someone who is clearly trying to do so?

          Maybe we should make it perfectly legal for someone to walk into a bank and shout "nobody move this is a robbery" so long as they do not actually take any money off the premises.

          Finkployd
      • they're pandering to an idiotic electorate that is excited by sensationalist news. They pass laws addressing email specifically probably in response to some news story or series of news stories on local media. They do it just so that in the next election cycle they can say "And I fought to protect your children from having to receive email solicitations from online predators!"

        The electorate, of course, loves this kind of "skewering the latest boogeyman" by legislators and will vote early and often for those
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The laws have been written in specific contexts this way for centuries. It's nothing new.

        In my state, the crime is still a crime (soliciting sex from a minor), but there are additional penalties assessed if the crime occurs over Internet. The crime by itself is punishable by a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $4,000; do it on the Net and it becomes a crime punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

        Big difference.

        The Florida statute is probably
        • by finkployd (12902) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:32PM (#16934152) Homepage
          In my state, the crime is still a crime (soliciting sex from a minor), but there are additional penalties assessed if the crime occurs over Internet.

          But for Flying Spaghetti Monster's sake, WHY???! What the hell does the Internet have to do with it? Is it somehow worse for a 13 year old to be raped in the Internet was somehow involved? Then you get into the debate over what exactly is the Internet? TCP/IP? What if part of the connection went over an ATM link? Or Packet Radio? Isn't it just a lot easier to say "boffing 13 year olds is illegal" and spell out a punishment for that rather than trying to create a sliding scale of punishment based on what protocol was used during some of the communication?

          Finkployd
    • by Tmack (593755)

      Often in the court system, these legal loopholes (be they ill-defined laws or what have you) allow criminals to go free.

      Often, maybe, but not in this case, even if they did find for the defendant on this particular charge... he was already busted for soliciting a minor. What this is about is that the court did not throw it out due to "email" being very poorly defined. Because of that, these is less of a chance that it will be changed. Yes the judge noted the poor definition, but at the same time, allowed

      • by GeckoX (259575)
        Yes, the system is broken, very very broken.

        I'd rather see one person stand up and do the right thing at some point in this process, than to see it passed off in the hope that someone else would fix the problem.

        More than that, I'd like to see the system fixed. Pedantry at the expense of common sense...how did we let things go so far?
    • by SnowZero (92219)
      I don't see the problem either. Laws are meant to be interpreted by a judge. They can appeal it if they don't like it.

      The exact medium is now has become irrelevant, considering that automatic gateways exist between email, text messaging, IMs, and html (webmail,web im). Online is online, and in particular, IMs with delayed delivery (ICQ,AIM), and websites with accounts and "personal messages", can function exactly like traditional email. I don't see why someone should get off the hook for any non-RFC-co
    • The judge took common sense and applied it, something judges are allowed to do

      Huh? Since when can judges extend the scope of a law through the use of common sense? The judiciary should act as a restraint on the legislature.

      it's time to rewrite the law from "e-mail" to "electronic correspondence"

      Correct. And until then, only e-mails should be used as criteria for conviction under the law.

      Interpreting the law is one thing (and I favor a pretty broad definition of interpret). But I don't think the answe

  • In most countries standard mail is protected by law for privacy invasion. In a lot of countries email is also covered by the same protection. Can we add IM's to it then?

    Although if email and IM's are basically 'any electronic communication', why not put the phone under it as well?
    • by Tweekster (949766)
      You only have an expectation of privacy involving a third party.

      You have no expectation of privacy involving the other party you are communicating with.

      IE, you tell me something on the phone you want to not be known...I blog about it, I did not invade your privacy, you told me.
      You hoped I would keep it a secret, but your hopes doesnt matter

      You can expect a third person to not receive your conversation, however you should expect the person you intended to communicate with to receive it, and unless you trust
    • Why Bother? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by camperdave (969942)
      The only thing that should matter is the addressing capability of the medium. When I make a phone call, or a cell call, or open an IM window, or send an email, or post a letter, the messages are addressed to a specific individual or group of individuals. I expect the communication to be private. When I join a public chat room, or talk into a CB radio, or send smoke signals, or use a bullhorn from my balcony, or put up posters in the local food court, I know that my messages are not being addressed to a sp
  • The right decision (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KingJoshi (615691) <slashdot@joshi.tk> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:46AM (#16932906) Homepage
    Otherwise, do you expect legislatures to start specifying RFCs? And how about when there are changes to it?

    Anyhow, if you check answers.com, the 4th defintion of mail is:
    "Mail or messages sent electronically; e-mail."

    'Instant messages' are 'messages sent electronically'. Even if the law included 'instant messages', how specific are they to be when they define it? The judges made the right decision.

    • Anyhow, if you check answers.com, the 4th defintion of mail is: "Mail or messages sent electronically; e-mail."

      I'm not willing to accept that as the authoritative definition. By that definition, telephone calls would be considered e-mail. Heck telegraphs would be considered e-mail. I don't buy it.

      • by KingJoshi (615691)
        But isn't that why we have judges and jury. So they can make the proper distinctions within the spirit of the law? I mean, it's bad enough that typos are causing various problems [usatoday.com]. But there has to be some leeway for the judge to go by the spirit of the law.
        • But isn't that why we have judges and jury. So they can make the proper distinctions within the spirit of the law?

          No we have judges to interpret what the law says, not to infer the intent of the lawmakers with regard to things they did not include. This is no different in principal to a lawmaker interpreting a homicide statute to convict someone of slaughtering cows. I mean cows are people too, right? Sure they are, the same way an instant message or phone call or paper letter is an e-mail message.

          As fo

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GeckoX (259575)
        So you're saying we haven't taken the abstraction far enough?

        Makes sense to me.

        How about we change it to the term 'communication'. What's the difference whether the act is in person, via snail mail, IM, email, phone, text message....And we wonder what could be wrong with our system of law. Sheesh.

        The lawyers are the ones that are able to abuse the system via pedantry, but they are only acting within the confines of a system of rules we laid out for them...it's to be expected really. The real problem is the
  • by tverbeek (457094) * on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:47AM (#16932934) Homepage
    This is why we use human juries and judges rather than literal linguistic processors to interpret the law: to allow the courts to make the judgment that, if doing something via e-mail is a punishable offense, then doing it via IM is as well. While technically different, they are effectively the same thing in this context. I'm a card-carrying civil libertarian, and love playing pedantic word games as much as any lawyer, but sometimes common sense is a good idea.
  • Despite what other posters have said about this ruling involving a Stevensian understanding of the Internet, I think the ruling makes perfect sense. Instant messaging is differentiated from email only by the speed of normal interaction. IMs, like email, are a one-to-one interaction, as opposed to open-channel chat, which is potentially a one-to-many interaction - each participant has a specific expectation about the intended recipient.
  • by Azathfeld (725855)
    The difference between "email" and "instant messaging" is a technical one, not a difference of substance. A statute that applies to "soliciting minors via phone lines" would almost certainly also be applied to cell phones, even if there's no "line" involved. "Electronic mail", as opposed to "email", is not such a specific phrase as to disinclude electronic forms of communication that are not "email", and it would be unreasonable to expect the state to come up with a new statute every time someone writes a
    • You can argue the case if the instant messaging system is a store-and-forward system that allows a delayed pickup of the message. Phone-texting and many internet-based IM systems work this way.

      Not all instant messaging systems act this way. IRC lacks delayed pickup, and IRC's DCC mechanism is not a store-and-forward system.

      If the message in question was more like ICQ than email, the lawyer should appeal.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Absolut187 (816431)
      I agree.
      It is not as if the legislature restricted the law to a single email protocol.
      I think the statute is ambiguous, and judicial interpretation was warranted.
      There is no dispute that the communication was electronic.
      This is really a dispute about the definition of "mail."
      Is it really that far-fetched to interpret "mail" as including all messages?

      Webster's Dictionary has 2 definitions for "e-mail":
      Main Entry: e-mail
      1 : a means or system for transmitting messages electronically (as between computers on a
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:50AM (#16933010) Homepage
    (3) CERTAIN USES OF COMPUTER SERVICES PROHIBITED.--Any person who knowingly utilizes a computer on-line service, Internet service, or local bulletin board service to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to commit any illegal act described in chapter 794, relating to sexual battery; chapter 800, relating to lewdness and indecent exposure; or chapter 827, relating to child abuse, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

    Additionally, the court ruling states:

    This case involves the prosecution of Michael John Simmons for luring or enticing a child by use of an online service in violation of section 847.0135, Florida Statutes (2002),

    Here's the link to the Florida Legal Code [flsenate.gov].

    The fact of the matter is that the actual section of the law that he was being prosecuted under relates to the Internet in general. It could have been a series of windows messenger popup alerts and it still would have gone through under this statute because even that could technically count as an "online service."

    I seriously doubt that the conviction would have been over-turned if the judge had defined email in a more limited fashion.

  • Without knowing the details of the case this sounds like a GoodThing(TM). Part of the reason why we have so many very very very specific laws is because in the recent past we have shied away from letting judges do their jobs and y'know, actually judge. Things like mandatory minimums are similar in that they an effort to remove the ability from the judge to actually judge, and in the end turn him into a sort of legal babysitter. The one thing that this sort of trend requires though, is a Congress that will a
  • The judge ruled in the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law - fine by me. Pedophiles are not a protected class.
  • If IM text can be considered in the same vein as email, then this could open up any legislation which specified email to other interpretations. Let's say you have a blog concerning the campus party scene and some minor subscribes to your RSS feed in their RSS-enabled email client. If you blog about something that can be construed by someone as "harmful to minors" does this mean that your RSS feed should be classified as email and you should be subjected to this legislation?
     
    • by blcamp (211756)

      Well, when lawyers are involved, a law (or application of the law) can mean any single thing that the lawyer can convince 12 members of the general public that it is.

      It has absolutely zero to do with reality.
  • Well, I couldn't the exact law that the article is talking about, but most Florida laws regarding e-mail state the definition as "Electronic mail message" has the same meaning as provided in s. 668.602.

    Here's the definition in 668.602:

    "Electronic mail message" means an electronic message or computer file that is transmitted between two or more telecommunications devices; computers; computer networks, regardless of whether the network is a local, regional, or global network; or electronic devices capable of receiving electronic messages, regardless of whether the message is converted to hardcopy format after receipt, viewed upon transmission, or stored for later retrieval.

    IANAL, but it seems pretty obvious that this should cover instant messages as well as e-mail as it does not refer to any of the RFCs for e-mail (2821, 2822, etc).

    The rest of the law can be seen at http://election.dos.state.fl.us/laws/04laws/ch_200 4-233.pdf [state.fl.us].

  • Surely, whether something is illegal or not should be completely independent of your method of correspondence. If I use the internet, I am in reality doing nothing different from using the postal service, fedex, telephone or fax.

    Otherwise, you just end up piling on new laws whenever some new medium is introduced.

    I'm glad the judge can decide that IM or Email is irrelevant in this case, but should he have to make that call of common sense?
  • whine whine (Score:3, Informative)

    by theMerovingian (722983) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:02PM (#16933354) Journal

    Actually, Florida statutes state:

    "electronic mail message" means an electronic message or computer file that is transmitted between two or more telecommunications devices; computers; computer networks, regardless of whether the network is a local, regional, or global network; or electronic devices capable of receiving electronic messages, regardless of whether the message is converted to hard copy format after receipt, viewed upon transmission, or stored for later retrieval.

    According to this definition, instant messages are clearly electronic mail in my mind. This might not jive with the typical geek nomenclature, but it is well within the realm of logic.

    This issue has nothing to do with child molestation, and their decision to classify IM as email was not "fudged" to convict a single molester of an offense. Supreme Court decisions such as these create a binding precedence for all other courts in the state to follow. In FL, the law is now that IM=email, unless and until the legislature amends FL statutes to expressly preclude the Supreme Court ruling.
  • An instant message sent to an IP address is a bit like a postcard sent nextday air and requiring hand delivery. Sure, there's no envelope, and it doesn't end up in a mail box, but it still obviously counts as mail.

     
  • c i told u that emailz r prety much da same as ims i dont relly c what the diff is its just sending msgs to diff ppl way2go judge ttyl
  • For all those of you, including the article submitter and the editor that approved the submission, who think that this is utterly insane or activist, please realize that the statute doesn't define what "electronic mail" means. What is the difference between e-mail and instant messages? If you can't clearly delineate them in a way that is so unassailable as to be subject to judicial notice [wikipedia.org], then why do you expect (or, for that matter, trust) a judge to so delineate them?
  • by kjart (941720) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:11PM (#16933604)

    solicited a 13-year-old girl (really a sheriff's deputy)

    I'm curious as to how this works. Based on the article, it seems as though he is being charged based solely on what occurred between him and the sheriff pretending to be a little girl.

    Michael John Simmons, 47, of Spotsylvania, Va., was charged with sending nude pictures of himself to the fictitious teen

    I'm sorry, but does nobody else find something wrong with this? I'm not saying that this guy didn't necessarily deserve it, but how can it possibly make sense for him to be charged for sending images of himself to a 'fictitious' person (i.e. the sheriff pretending to be a little girl). In other words, if the sheriff hadn't lied about his identity, there wouldn't have been a crime here, even if the man had done the same thing?

    I'm all for stopping/getting help for people like that, but how on Earth is the above a crime?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jerf (17166)
      Because we say it is.

      I understand your discomfort. It's a good thing. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance" is more about keeping an eye on the small things than the big, flashy, obvious things.

      But in the real world, the optimal balance between liberty and justice requires a few ugly bits, because that's just the way the world works. Nothing is ever as clean in practice as it is in theory and justice is no exception.

      Arresting and convicting someone in a sting is certainly a bit dodgy, but it's a tool
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lord_Dweomer (648696)
      I completely agree with you. There are many Slashdotters on here (i'm sure many of them parents themselves) who will immediately jump in and say that the judge was right to do this, but think for a second...what child was harmed by this man? He is being charged for a fucking Thought Crime! The officer PRETENDED to be a 13 year old. There was never any real 13 year old involved in thiis. Why can't the defendent just say "oh, I knew it was a cop, I was aroused by the idea of someone lying about their ide
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kklein (900361)

        How exactly is this not entrapment? I'd love for those with a legal education to explain to me how and why this is not a Thought Crime.

        I don't think it can be done. This is entrapment, pure and simple. It is a thought crime, pure and simple.

        I have a friend whose brother-in-law, aged 19, just out of high school, not that bright, thought he had a girlfriend he met online. They'd been chatting and flirting for months. She finally arranged a meetup; he got all dandied up and drove down to finally meet

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by westlake (615356)
        Why can't the defendent just say "oh, I knew it was a cop, I was aroused by the idea of someone lying about their identity, not the fact that they were pretending to be a child"?

        He can say it.

        But that will mean taking the stand, with all the risks of cross-examination. It means opening the door to just about anything that might cast doubt on his character and credibility.

        He can say it.

        But that doesn't mean the jury is obliged to believe it. Not after they have read the transcripts. Not after they have

  • The story poster has a clear bias in his writings that reads as if he thinks the person who committed the illegal act should get away with, because the electronic messaging protocol he used was IM instead of SMTP...

    This is ridiculous - should such a rule also mean people who use Outlook and Exchange be exempt from the law because they don't use SMTP to talk to each other?

    "E-mail" is a term used to describe a "mail" sent "electronically" - it is not a big leap that a message sent from one computer user to an
  • I not being observant, not judgmental here. Some of the harshest laws deal with crimes against children. Just having child pr0n on disk can get one into jail. The long running NBC Dateline series on internet predators is fascinating[*]. Just driving on the street of a sting setup gets one busted- that demonstrates serious intent. Anyone who spends time in the backcountry knows one of the most dangerous things is to get between a parent and its offspring.

    Sometimes this leads to less than desirable side ef
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dunbal (464142)
      Sometimes this leads to less than desirable side effects.

      It's a statistical fact that the more sensitive you make the test, the more false positives you get. People are more touchy nowadays (compared to ancient Greece, for example), so you get quite a few cases of normal behavior labeled as inappropriate nowadays. Unfortunately such a mistake absolutely ruins someone's life - can you imagine having to live as a "sex offender"? We have to ask ourselves how far this is going to go.
  • Redefinition (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rinisari (521266) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @02:00PM (#16936434) Homepage Journal
    I think that the law should be amended to include "electronic communication" rather than "electronic mail." Email and instant messaging are two very distinct methods of communication from an interaction standpoint. Electronic mail is asynchronous and heterotopic, that is, different place and time. Instant messaging is synchronous and heterotopic, that is, same time and a different place. The immediacy of the conversation is entirely different; there is greater interaction with IM than email.
  • by Belial6 (794905) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @05:23PM (#16940644)
    The general debate here is whether the Judge crossed a line or not. What worries me more is that police entrapment is becoming common place and accepted. An agent of the sheriff's department, went online to look for someone that would agree to have sex with a minor. The goal was to create a situation that lead to a crime. As I understand it, that is entrapment, and is illegal.

    I don't know the name of the movie, but there was a trailer that was running for a while, where an adult was at a club, and two hot twins offer sex to the adult. The adult asks "You two are 18, right?" and the response was "Well, together we are 34!". While this was obviously intended to be humor, it presents a reasonable hypothetical situation.

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