Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Paying for Free Speech

Very nice to see the stalker of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews receive the maximum sentence. On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles gave Michael David Barrett 2-1/2 years for illegally videotaping Andrews in her hotel room, and then distributing the nude images over the Internet.

While vindicated, Andrews was not happy, believing the sentence should have been harsher. "You are a sexual predator, a sexual deviant," she told a remorseful Barrett. "They should lock you up and throw away the key." Andrews also said she lives in a state of fear and needs security at work and home, and thus is continually victimized by the incident, which took place at a Nashville hotel last year.

And that's a key point. It would be one thing if the video of Andrews had already passed from the public domain, allowing her to get on with her life. But the video is still out there, circulating, and probably will be forever. (I won't post the links, but they aren't too hard to find).

The permanency and freedom of the Internet make this a more tragic case. If the pictures had appeared in print or on television, they could be locked away and forgotten. But that Internet video will probably be around to haunt Andrews the rest of her life. Maybe it's time to talk seriously about some sort of restrictions on the Internet for cases such as this. The Internet carries with it the protection of freedom of speech, but the First Amendment does have restrictions and it certainly doesn't allow Internet profiteers to make money off of illegally-obtained content. But even if the government could heavily fine companies for posting the video there remains a huge problem--once the genie is out of the bottle how do you get him back in?

Oh, and to make matters worse ... Internet hackers have used the Andrews video to lure in viewers and spread computer viruses and malware. Nice.


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