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This week in online politics

CNET's Declan McCullagh hits a nerve with his column criticizing a law making it a federal crime to annoy someone via the Net.

Late last week, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing one's true identity.

The prohibition is included in the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties for such e-mails include stiff fines and two years in prison.

The law says that "Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet...without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

Though this provision was not widely reported by the media, CNET's Declan McCullagh ignited a firestorm with his column criticizing the new law's "ridiculous prohibition," taking particular offense at the use of the word "annoy."

Because this was the first time most readers had heard of the law, CNET prepared a FAQ to address readers' questions about the law and whether it conflicts with the First Amendment. For more information, read the FAQ.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from an online dating service that claimed it had the right to send unsolicited e-mails to thousands of University of Texas e-mail accounts. In 2003, the University of Texas blocked thousands of unsolicited e-mails sent to its users by a start-up that specializes in establishing online-dating services for third-party customers.

The University of Texas got several complaints from students who had received "unsolicited e-mail blasts" from the company, according to court filings. Citing its Board of Regents' general policy against solicitation, the university had the company's IP addresses blocked.