A number of tools of online harassment could well become illegal under federal law if a newly proposed bill in Congress is passed. Called the Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017, it would make revenge porn, swatting, and doxxing illegal at the federal level, in an effort to improve online safety, particularly for women.
Although online harassment comes in many forms, there are a number that have more serious consequences. Doxxing, the practice of outing someone’s personal information such as home address and contact details, can lead to real-world harassment, while revenge porn — the posting of embarrassing or explicit photos or video without someone’s permission — has obvious consequences of its own.
These and other dangerous online harassment tactics are what Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts wants to see criminalized federally, making them a crime no matter where the victim or harasser are located. Clark is no stranger to such criminal action, herself having been a victim of swatting in 2016 when she first proposed making the practice illegal across the country.
Designed as a “road map,” for Congress, as much as a federal mandate, the bill proposes not only criminalizing a number of harassment tactics, but would provide additional training and resources for all levels of law enforcement to deal with the crimes.
That could be particularly important considering the sensitive nature of some of them. Revenge porn posting and sextortion, in particular, require special care because the reporting of such crimes often brings about what the victim fears most: Increasing the visibility of the images they’re being targeted with, at least in the short term.
Overall, some $20 million in grants would be given out to state and local law enforcement to enhance investigations into digital crimes, while a further $4 million would be given to the attorney general for the creation of a new National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals. That would lead to an annual report being created for statistics on online crime, giving a much better idea of how prolific they are.
Resources would also be allocated to see an additional 10 FBI agents assigned to tackling such crimes (thanks to The Verge).
Clarke hopes that the bill will also see communication improve between policing departs at the state and federal level, to better protect victims and improve the resolution of such criminal investigations.
Though a Democrat, Clarke describes the bill as bipartisan, and has received sponsorship from Rep. Susan Brooks, a Republican from Indiana, and Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, also Republican. Other endorsements from the bill have come from the private sector, with Facebook, which already plays a major part in tackling revenge porn, urging for its passing.
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