Online Harassment Laws In The United States

online harassment lawsAccording to media reports, at the time of this writing, twenty-four states have both online harassment laws and cyber-stalking laws; ten states only have cyber-stalking laws and thirteen states only have Internet harassment laws.

Online Harassment Law: California Penal Code 646.9

California enjoys the country’s strictest computer and Internet harassment statutes.

The state’s definition of stalking:

“Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family…”

The law specifically mentions electronic communication devices — meaning telephones, cellular phones, computers, video recorders, fax machines, and pagers (not a complete list).

Online Harassment Law: Texas H.B. No. 2003

Instituted in September of 2009, the Texas Legislator amended the text of an extant bill to include ONLINE HARASSMENT.

“A person commits an offense if the person uses the name or persona of another person to create a web page on or to post one or more messages on a commercial social networking site. They can also be charged if they send an “electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or other item of identifying information belonging to any person…”

Other requirements must be met to secure an online harassment conviction in Texas, but law enforcement officials successfully and regularly use this statute to arrest online harassment suspects.

Online Harassment Law: Arizona House Bill 2549

Arizona legislators enacted its state online harassment laws in August 2012. Previous statutes (enacted in the 1970s) only addressed telephone harassment, resulting in a major computer and Internet loophole.

Some opponents of the 2012 bill felt it was too vaguely worded; others thought it too precise.

The law specifically exempts constitutionally protected speech from legal action.

Online Harassment Law: Missouri HB 1852

A teen’s suicide prompted Missouri officials to pass an online harassment law.

Missouri HB 1852 amended the definition of stalking and harassment to include electronic devices other than the telephone. Recently, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down some of the text in the law, citing free speech concerns.

Online Harassment Law: West Virginia Computer Crime and Abuse Act

Section 61-3C-14a of West Virginia’s Computer Crime and Abuse Act addresses “obscene, anonymous, harassing and threatening communications by computer, cell phones and electronic communication devices.”

Online Harassment Law: North Carolina S 14-196.3

G.S. 14-196.3 is North Carolina’s cyber-stalking statute.  It specifically exempts constitutionally protected speech from legal action.

“…any peaceable, nonviolent, or nonthreatening activity intended to express political views or to provide lawful information to others. This section shall not be construed to impair any constitutionally protected activity, including speech, protest, or assembly.”

Online Harassment Law: Michigan 750.411h

Michigan’s harassment statute addresses stalking It wasn’t passed to specifically address online issues, but it does mention electronic communication devices as a means of delivery for harassment or stalking.

Online Harassment Law: Georgia § 16-5-90.

Section 16-5-90 of Georgia’s code governs harassment and stalking; the law specifically mentions technology.

Federal Stalking / Online Harassment Laws

  • 18 U.S.C. 875(c) – Addresses interstate threats. Electronic communication devices are covered under the law. Evidence of a physical threat is required to prosecute under this statute.
  • 47 U.S.C. 223 – Tackles harassment as well as threats. It only covers one-on-one harassment and doesn’t help in situations where harassers dupe  or encourage other parties into attacking a victim (through Internet trolling and other methods) online.
  • 18 U.S.C. 2425 – Deals specifically with using electronic communications devices to entice children sexually. A good, tough law, unfortunately it can’t be used in all cyber-stalking or harassment cases.
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