Should the Police Be Involved in the Web?

Should The Police Be Involved In The Web?

On the 19th of April, 2009, Senator Ted Lieu from California was surprised to find that a team of armed policemen were surrounding his home with reports that he had shot his wife. The anonymous report, of course, was false, but the police needed to do their jobs and check on the situation. Senator Lieu was a victim of a practice known as “swatting” which involves sending police after individuals on a false report. It’s an intimidation tactic that is very popular among miscreants on the Internet who want a good laugh or to teach someone a lesson. More recently there are cases in which individuals are harassed or threatened on the Internet through Twitter. Many of them are calling for judicial involvement on this medium. Should this be done?

onlineharassment-swatting

Unfortunately there is no legal instrument that can be used to stop someone from dialing an emergency number and saying that you’re strangling someone in your house as long as they know your address. The police have a duty to respond to these calls and investigate the scene. Sure, the experience can be horrifying, but involving the police on the Internet is not going to solve the problem.

Swatting can be stopped by verifying information prior to investigating the area in question. Is the person calling really the victim’s neighbor? You can check this through the database. Is the person a passerby? Then the cellular phone’s location should be within the range of one of the antennas serving the neighborhood. A large amount of these incidents happen to have a 9-1-1 caller who is several miles away from the location and therefore could not be witnessing anything at the moment that the report is made.

onlineharassment-bully

At best, if you’re harassed, you’re at least a bit uncomfortable if not terrified, especially if it never happened to you before. It’s happened to me a hefty number of times, and it can be draining depending on the situation. There are, however, negative consequences to regulating harassment on the Internet. How do you define it? If the definition is too broad, anything you say can be scrutinized and picked apart, which curbs the free speech of a very large number of individuals (this has happened before). If the definition is too narrow, it will at best have no effect.

Slowly, companies are starting to create algorithms and human intervention techniques that curb the worst harassment (both the kind that affects people in real life and the digital kind that really causes you no potential physical harm). If someone fears for their life, there are already ways to present this to a bureau from the police, and they will be more willing to provide assistance as the phenomenon receives more attention. There’s really no reason to have a law that will, in all likelihood, do more harm than good. The infrastructure itself is evolving, and some of the ways in which it is evolving is already creating concerns.

In an age where students can be charged with harassment for saying a joke and a professor can be charged with sexual harassment for criticizing someone, it has become quite clear that any additional law that covers the Internet exclusively would risk upsetting the balance that this form of communication has between freedom of expression and personal safety. It can already be provided for in the present legal system, at least in the European, North American, and most Asian-Pacific legal realms.

So, do we need new laws to police the Internet for harassment? Tell us your opinion in a comment!

3 comments

  1. “You can check this through the database.”
    Isn’t our (everybody’s) information in enough databases?! Do we really need another one?

    “In an age where students can be charged with harassment for saying a joke and a professor can be charged with sexual harassment for criticizing someone”
    Isn’t that evidence enough that we have too many ill-thought out, misguided, knee-jerk reaction laws?

    Before our legislators do anything as stupid as creating databases and/or passing new ineffective laws, maybe we should figure out a way to catch the “swatters” and “harassers”. Because right now they can do their dastardly deeds with impunity.

    • “Do we really need another one?”
      This is what I meant. There’s already a cross-referencing database for landlines and registered cellular lines.

  2. “Swatting” of course is an illegal activity–false reporting of crime even though not direct accusations are included.
    However, it does point out,
    the pervasiveness of the new para-military police state and
    the dire necessity for every citizen to be well trained, practiced and armed (carrying a weapon at all times).
    The former is a real threat to peace, freedom, peace, and Constitutional order. (“Police” and “police state” are not powers granted by the Constitution. Without that, they cannot legally exist, despite government assurances otherwise.) The Militia are they only authorized local peace keepers. (Do your own research. Caution: The government, all governments, lie about this power. If it was intended , it would appear in the founding documents–they took years and a hundred great minds to write the founding documents. Not there. )
    Note: Under the current regime, Police do NOT have a legal responsibility to protect any citizen or their property. This is true in every State, Territory and the District of Criminals. (Do your own research.) Why are you citizens paying for them? Object. Reject the notion. Demand closure.
    The Bill of Rights, says “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property …” That means the death penalty is always and is forever a proper and legal punishment in United States (when administered with due process) and in States where uneducated, misinformed legislatures have said contrary. Their abolitions are null, void and bad law. (Note: Bad and void law cannot be enforced and should not be followed.)
    Offenders with multiple felonies should be executed, hung or fried immediately following trial. No if’s, and’s or but’s.
    Civilized society was never intended to endure the negativity and disregard of good life demonstrated by felons.
    Death absolutely rehabilitates. Death is a suitable punishment. Death repays the criminal debt of the recipient to society. It is a almost the perfect punishment. To not have and not use the death penalty is unjust, maybe unethical. ©2015

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