Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Proposal seeks crackdown on Internet harassment




By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When the e-mail or Internet chatroom talk goes from amicable to hostile, Ohioans on the receiving end might soon have a law to make cyberspace safe again.

        A bill introduced by state Sen. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, would make so-called cyberstalking a misdemeanor punishable by six months in prison and a $1,000 fine on first offense. In many instances, it could be a felony.

        The law would apply to computer-sent messages intended to make the victim fear physical harm or feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested.” A victim's “mental distress” would be enough to trigger the law.

        “Computers are becoming part of our everyday lives so quickly that law en forcement officers and prosecutors need the tools to keep these people off the Internet,” Mr. Austria said of cyberstalkers.

        The full extent of cyberstalking can only be speculated, but a New York organization that tracks reported cases, CyberAngels, says it receives information on 500 cases a day from around the world.

        About 75 percent of those reports, said CyberAngels executive director Parry Aftab, have romance themes.

        “It's horrible and frightening to be harassed online, and there's a high likelihood of cyberstalking turing into real-life stalking,” Mr. Aftab said. “If there isn't a law, nobody will give you help.”

        Mr. Aftab said 32 states have enacted laws against cyberstalking, while three others are considering such a measure.

       



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