Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) has proposed legislation to specifically outlaw internet harassment-based crimes like swatting and devote $24 million a year to stopping them. The Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017 collects several of Clark’s earlier bills, with sponsorship from Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA). It imposes penalties on several relatively new forms of abuse that may be only indirectly covered under other laws, while funding research and investigation into internet safety issues.
The bill includes six sections, all addressing “cybercrimes against individuals” — as opposed to attacks on businesses or government infrastructure, which are a higher priority in most cybercrime policy. Three of the sections outline punishments for “sextorting” sexual imagery from people through blackmail, falsely reporting an emergency to provoke a swat team response, and “doxxing” people by disclosing personal information to cause harm.
US attorneys and FBI agents would be specifically tasked with fighting online abuse
The other sections are aimed at giving police and the FBI better resources to fight these crimes. The bill lays out $20 million in grants for training state and local law enforcement in how to identify and investigate cybercrimes, as well as $4 million for the attorney general to establish a National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals. The attorney general is supposed to begin publishing an annual report on cybercrime statistics, and assign at least 10 FBI agents to specifically handle these crimes, as well as at least one assistant US attorney in each state.
This could help prevent the kind of coordination problems that plagued the FBI’s investigation into online threats during the Gamergate controversy. Clark hopes the bill can “create better communication through both state local and federal law enforcement, to really be able to give a place where victims can turn [and] know their cases will be taken seriously.” She’s also attempting to work with private companies to combat abuse, and says Facebook has endorsed this bill. “Since this came on our radar with Gamergate back in 2014, we have met with many of the major social media platforms,” she says.
Clark has put forward individual bills covering these issues before, as well as a letter urging Congress to put more emphasis on fighting online threats, but nothing has moved to a vote so far. This time, she hopes that the support of two Republican representatives, as well as endorsements from law enforcement groups and Facebook, will help its chances. There’s no companion bill in the Senate yet, but Clark says she’s had inquiries from senators. And Clark is far from the only lawmaker concerned about online abuse. California passed an anti-swatting bill in 2013, and two states have criminalized sextortion.
Online abuse isn’t as high-profile a problem as it was when Clark started working on the issue, but it’s remained a fact of life on the internet; Clark herself was swatted after proposing anti-swatting legislation. “There's a lot of chaos in politics and in Congress right now, but this is important, and it's one of those issues that is not partisan,” she says. “The most severe online abuse, which is what we are targeting with my legislation, cuts across all kinds of communities and political ideologies.”