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Florida may have accidentally banned computers and smartphones

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Florida governor Rick Scott (Credit: Getty Images)

Got a laptop or an iPhone in Florida? You could be violating the law.

In an attempt to ban Internet cafes in the Sunshine State, legislators may have been a bit too broad in their language, resulting in what some legal experts say is a law that inadvertently makes it illegal to own a computer or a smartphone.

The bill, which was signed into law by Florida governor Rick Scott in April, was meant to shut down cafes, some of which have been tied to illegal gambling in the state. And shut them down it did: over 1,000 cafes were immediately closed.

But it's the wording that's problematic, as it defines a slot machine as "any machine or device or system or network of devices" that can be used in games of chance. Turns out the Internet is full of gambling sites, which is where the definition runs into some problems.

Consuelo Zapata, owner of the Miami-Dade county Internet cafe Incredible Investments, LLC, is suing the state to overturn the ban, saying that definition is too broad and could be applied to any number of electronic devices.

Zapata and her legal team contend the bill was created and written in kneejerk fashion after a charity group associated with Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll was shut down on suspicion of being an Internet gambling front, leading to her resignation.

"The Florida Legislature rushed to pass broad-sweeping amendments to existing statutes that violate the United States Constitution in a frenzy fueled by distorted judgment in the wake of a scandal that included the Lieutenant Governor’s resignation," the complaint reads.

If Zapata's accusations are correct, that puts Florida at the top of the list of wacky online laws passed in the past 18 months.

Last April, Arizona updated its telecommunications harassment bill to target cyberbullies, but the language -- which used such broad words as "annoy" and "offend" -- basically made it a Class 1 misdemeanor to troll someone on a message board.

One month later, New York tried something similar, proposing legislation that would legally force you to identify yourself if someone didn't like your comment on a Web site, essentially banning anonymous online comments.

The Arizona bill was reworded, while New York's quietly died.

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