On October 1, 2012, the “NIO laws” went into effect in Florida. Under these amendments to current stalking laws, it is now officially a crime for us to publish public-domain information about University of Florida vivisectors that is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States everywhere else said information appears. Violation of this statute can result in criminal prosecution for felony stalking.
by Nathan Crabbe (Gainesville Sun)
A half-dozen University of Florida employees have been harassed or threatened as a result of their home addresses and other contact information being posted on an animal-rights website, according to university officials, who hope that changes to the state’s stalking law will help address these kind of threats.
Animal rights activist Camille Marino of Wildwood founded the group Negotiation is Over and has used its website in a campaign against researchers who she claims experiment on animals. Marino was arrested at a Gainesville protest in February and extradited to Michigan for violating a court order to remove from the website the personal information of a researcher from that state.
Information on the researcher has been taken down, and Marino has returned to Florida as she awaits a June hearing in the case, but information on the UF researchers remains online. UF Police Chief Linda Stump said those researchers have received death threats and other harassment by email and phone calls at all hours.
“I think they certainly take them seriously,” Stump said of the threats. “We’re going to pursue everything we can under the law to seek legal remedies, and I think the new law coming into effect will help individuals that receive this type of harassment.”
The law, signed last week by Gov. Rick Scott and taking effect Oct. 1, expands the stalking statute to include electronically delivered threats. It establishes cyberstalking as a third-degree felony and allows injunctions of up to 10 years to be issued. The changes are directed at domestic violence and exempt protests, but broaden the definition of what is considered a threat.
Marino said she is simply posting publicly available personal information about researchers online and isn’t responsible for threats to them. But she said that any means are justified in stopping research that she equates to “murdering, terrorizing and abusing” animals.
“If you do things that are abominable and reprehensible, then you deserve to at the very least get death threats,” she said.
Marino’s website includes statements about making researchers understand that their work would result in “a lifetime of grief,” including car bombings, injuries and embarrassing home demonstrations. She started focusing on UF researchers in 2010, posting their home and work addresses, phone numbers and email addresses online.
One activist was charged with trespassing at UF in 2011 for posting signs that offer a reward for information about students who experiment on animals. Marino sued UF for denying a public records request on animal research records, winning a ruling that released some documents but failing to obtain addresses of research locations. The ruling has been appealed.
Group members have expanded their campaign against UF to include emailing alumni and a recent protest at a Gainesville church that faculty and students attend. Stump said university police are in contact with federal authorities and local prosecutors about the group, but must protect the safety of university employees as well as the First Amendment rights of protesters.
“It’s a slippery slope,” she said. “Our intention is to never infringe on somebody’s freedom of speech.”
The First Amendment doesn’t protect true threats, but the new Florida law ventures into an area that has seen conflicting court rulings, said Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at UF. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2003 case there is no need to prove the intent to carry out a threat in upholding a Virginia cross-burning law.
But Calvert said the lower courts have been split on the issue of whether simply making someone fear harm is protected speech. In the case of the new law, he said, people being targeted must only show a reasonable fear for their safety or others associated with them but nothing having to do with the intent of the person making the threat.
“All that we focus on is going to be the animal researcher and whether it was reasonable for him to fear for his safety and the safety of his family members,” he said.
Marino said it’s not surprising that the law would allow research on animals and also be used to repress her efforts. She said researchers are more responsible for their fears than the rhetoric on the Negotiation is Over website.