Monday, May 12, 2014

COPA-like nature of Russian anti-gay law could make it dangerous for many western journalists and bloggers to set foot there

I haven’t heard a lot in recent years about state COPA-like “harmful to minors” laws, and I don’t know if the Virginia Supreme Court eventually struck down Virginia’s law, given the COPA trial decision in early 2007.

There is a possible trap in these laws.  In theory, if someone operated a website from one state where his action was legal, and visited another state, it sounds theoretically possible he could be apprehended.  Of course, the unconstitutionality of the law at the federal level makes such a prosecution extremely unlikely, and I don’t recall any that had happened before 2007. 

But there is another point of argument, that addresses traveling abroad.  If you operate a website that does something illegal according to the laws of the country you visit, and especially if it is not blocked by the country, it sounds like a risk that you could be arrested and detained while in that country, even if you didn’t mention the site while there or try to update it. 

So I have to assume right now that it would be very risky for me to visit Russia.  As recently as a year ago, I had contemplated the idea of visiting St. Petersburg, to see the Hermitage, at least.  It’s no surprise that much of Africa would be hostile, but the idea of a supposedly modernizing country becoming off limits is discouraging, because of its “COPA-like” law, as the anti-gay pornography law would be implemented.

I do wonder what would happen of openly gay journalists visit Russia, or other countries with even worse laws, and if media companies now have to think about this issue (whether a journalist has supported gay rights online) before assigning them to cover a story in Russia.  Again, it’s the similarity (in terms of ambiguity and structure) to COPA that is striking.