Petition to Strengthen NC Cyberstalking Laws
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The digital age in which we live, combined with the explosion of social networking, have greatly enhanced our connectivity to one another. Reaching out and connecting with strangers is easier than ever before in human history. However, with this ease comes the necessity to protect ourselves from uninvited harm committed by nefarious users across the internet, cloaked and shielded by the protection of anonymity.
The State of North Carolina owes it to their citizens to protect them from cyber harassment in all forms. North Carolina has taken steps to combat harassment committed by telephone and e-mail, but in today’s age of social media, this just isn’t enough. It’s time for the General Assembly to empower law enforcement and our criminal justice system to strike out at cyber harassment committed across social media platforms.
Ironically, many of the necessary tools are already in place. North Carolina’s cyberstalking laws do criminalize communications across electronic platforms that are made to harass or threaten citizens. However, these laws need to be better clarified and strengthened. Unfortunately, due to vagueness in the law, law enforcement personnel in North Carolina are often unclear on the very laws they’ve been called to enforce, believing that cyberstalking requires actual threats of physical violence or financial harm committed upon the victim.
We call on the General Assembly to stand with the citizens of North Carolina by:
1. Clarifying that “NC General Statute 14-196.3 Cyberstalking” (NCGS14-196.3) does and should extend to harassment committed across social media platforms and that would-be harassers will no longer enjoy the protections of anonymity when they engage in behaviors intended solely to cause harm to another person. According to NCGS14-196.3, it is unlawful for a person to “[electronically mail or electronically communicate to another person repeatedly, whether or not conversation ensues, for the purpose of abusing, annoying, threatening, terrifying, harassing, or embarrassing any person.” While this implies that social media is included under “electronic communication”, it does not explicitly reference “social media” by name, nor does it define it as the same. This ambiguity is causing police departments to have trouble upholding this law, as they often believe it to only apply to electronic mail (email). We are petitioning that this clause be amended to specifically include cyberstalking via “social media” and to inform law enforcement personnel that they have been empowered to bring criminal actions against individuals who engage in the unwarranted harassment of other people across social media platforms;
2. Clarifying that “NC General Statute 14-196.3 Cyberstalking” (NCGS 14-196.3) does and should extend to "Doxing". “Doxing” is a relatively new form of cyber terrorism in which people spread other’s personal contact information online (to include addresses, phone numbers, photos, employer’s contact information, etc) for the specific purpose of stalking, harassment, and slander, often with the motivation of getting the person fired from their job. According to “NCGS 14-196.3”, it is unlawful for as person to electronically mail or electronically communicate to another person repeatedly, whether or not conversation ensues, for the purpose of abusing, annoying, threatening, terrifying, harassing, or embarrassing any person.” While this clause should reasonably encompass “doxing” to be included under “Cyberstalking”, it does not explicitly reference “doxing”, by name. This lack of clarification is causing police departments to have trouble upholding the law, as they are unfamiliar with this new form of harassment. We are petitioning that this clause be amended to specifically include “doxing” as a form of “Cyberstalking”;
3. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) currently only considers explicit threats of death or bodily harm as communicating threats. “Implied" threats of harm to a person or their business do not count as communicating threats, according to CMPD. However, according to “NCGS 14-196.3 Cyberstalking”, these threats made online do count as Cyberstalking. We are petitioning law enforcement across the state to provide greater training to their officers and personnel on criminal offenses according to the laws of North Carolina, especially in regards to NC General Statute 14-196.3 and take all threats of stalking, harassment, and harm seriously.
This is the time for the General Assembly of North Carolina to show that they stand with the citizens of this state and empower law enforcement to protect North Carolinians from undue harm from across the internet.
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