Congresswoman Swats at Hoax Calls
BOSTON — A rare night home with her family in Melrose over a year ago turned into a terrifying experience for U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark when flashing blue lights and a squadron of police vehicles and heavily-armed officers appeared in an instant on her front lawn.
The computer-generated message that prompted the serious response from Melrose police was stark: “Shots fired and an active shooter” was called in to the station’s business line, giving Clark’s address.
Clark, principal sponsor of legislation to make hoax calls triggering a heavy police response, or, “swatting,” a federal crime, had just been “swatted” herself on that scary night January 31, 2016.
The Interstate Swatting Hoax Act first introduced by Clark in November 2015 sought to amend the federal criminal code to make it a crime to use a telecommunications system, the mails, or another facility of interstate or foreign commerce to knowingly report false or misleading information with the intent to cause an emergency law enforcement response.
FBI reports document more than 400 swatting incidents nationwide each year.
Long an advocate for fighting cyber crime on the Internet against women and others, Clark represents Malden, Medford and Melrose as part of the 5th Massachusetts Congressional District. She is joining colleagues in unveiling another major bill which she called “a roadmap for Congress to address online safety and combat the rise in online crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls.”
“Like every parent, I spend a lot of time thinking about my kids’ safety, whether they’re out with their friends or navigating their lives online,” she said.
Clark has signed on to bipartisan legislation with Republican colleagues Susan Brooks and Patrick Meehan to sponsor the Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017.
The new legislation upgrades facets of several earlier bills Clark sponsored to combat online abuse, including a number of harassment-based crimes such as swatting, “sextorting” which uses sexual imagery in attempts to blackmail people, and “doxxing,” where personal information is used to harm people’s status and reputation and threaten them with bodily harm or worse.
The Online Safety Modernization Act enacts penalties for sextortion, doxxing, non-consensual pornography, and swatting, and gives local and federal law enforcement resources to investigate and prosecute online crimes and severe online threats.
“The growth of the internet and the proliferation of smartphones have meant that harassment and stalking increasingly takes place online, but our laws have been slow to keep pace with this new generation of predatory behavior,” said Meehan.
Clark, in a statement, said that the rise of online predators, particularly against women, has caused many victims to make unwanted, drastic choices.
“As federal policies have failed to keep up with online abuses and local police face a lack of resources, victims often feel they have no choice but to take drastic action like fleeing their homes, spending enormous sums on protection, and leaving job opportunities,” she stated.
In addition to staking out cyber predatory behavior as a federal offenses, Clark and her co-sponsors also propose $24 million in federal money to be spent by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office on investigating cyber crimes and prosecuting them at the federal level.
The legislation also proposes a grant program to train local police, prosecutors and judicial personnel on how to address and prosecute cyber predatory crime at the local level.
“Unlike parents before us, today we have to worry about things like sextortion, revenge porn, online threats, and online predators,” Clark said. “We need to make sure that our policies keep up with the realities of our connected world. The Online Safety Modernization Act ensures that our laws are updated to provide protections for the millions of Americans who are online right now, navigating their personal and professional lives.”