Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Examining The Laws Surrounding Cyber-Assault

At 13-years old, Megan Meier had her whole life in front of her. Although she had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and was on the antidepressant Zoloft since the third grade due to suicidal thoughts, Megan was harassed into an early grave.

Megan had been conversing via with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. But as the world-wide-web can be a vehicle for people to create false identities and mislead others, six weeks after Megan’s suicide, her parents learned that Josh Evans was an online pseudo-persona created by Lori Drew, 47, who lived four houses down the street.

In Lori Drew’s final message to Megan, she writes, “The world would be a better place without you.” Claiming to create the profile of 'Josh Evans' to win Megan’s trust and learn how Megan felt about her daughter, to whom she had a 'falling-out' with, no charges have been filed against Ms. Drew. St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson, Lt. Craig McGuire, said that what Ms. Drew did “might’ve been rude, it might’ve been immature, but it wasn’t illegal.”

Knowingly harassing and cajoling a minor by an adult via the Internet, is not currently punishable. However, in response to this innocent loss of life, the local Board of Aldermen in Missouri unanimously passed a measure making Internet harassment a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. Questions arise as to how this measure will be enforced. What if Ms. Drew did not live in the same town as Megan? What if Ms. Drew did not even reside in the United States? Would these laws be applicable to her still?

The first initiative to regulate cyberspace was taken by the federal government in the Communications Decency Act of 1995. The purpose of this bill was to make illegal the circulation of indecent materials through interactive media, placing it under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. The act criminalized anything indecent or obscene but it was struck down as unconstitutional for being a violation of the First Amendment.

The Child Online Protection Act passed in 1998 with the purpose of protecting minors from harmful sexual material on the Internet. But once again, the federal courts have ruled that the law violates the constitutional protection of free speech, and therefore have blocked it from taking effect. Another issue plaguing the regulation of online content is that cyberspace is a world that exists without regard for physical location. Web users are free to move from web page to web page and server to server, without obstructions. So how do you regulate and enforce laws in cyberspace? And should there be involvement by a governing body?

Extraterritoriality is when a nation’s legal authority extends past its territorial borders. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hartford Fire case held that the concerted refusal by London re-insurers to sell certain types of reinsurance to insurers in the United States violated the Sherman Act. The re-insurer’s actions in England were legal under English law. But the Court determined that the re-insurers were nonetheless subject to US regulation because their actions “produced substantial effect[s]” in the United States. U.S. law thus regulated the activities of English companies in England at the expense of the non-application of English law. Similarly, had an English court applied English law to adjudge the re-insurer’s acts to be legal, it would have produced ‘spillover effects’ on consumers in the United States . This makes the enforcement of laws extraterritorial.

In Cyberspace, since information flows simultaneously in all territorial jurisdictions, unilateral regulation of the local effects of cyberspace transmissions become near impossible. Information is like air; we cannot just draw a line in the air and stop it from moving and being used by people elsewhere. In this case, however, Ms. Drew was a ‘supposed’ friend and neighbor, residing within the same jurisdiction as the victim of this appalling hoax.

Assault is an attempt to menace; although not directly threatening her, Ms. Drew assaulted Megan through false impersonation. First Amendments right are the cornerstone of this country, but not all speech is protected under the law and online laws to protect children need to be revisited. Not just against sexual predators but all predators looking to harm a child.

Topic 9: Sovereignty, Advisor Mitch Kapor
Topic 10: Democratic Structures, Advisor Mike Fischer
Child Protection Act:
A Hoax Turned Fatal Draws Anger but No Charges:


azuzuru said...

Jenn, are you advocating the criminalization of creating a false identity on the Internet? I think just about everyone has been guilty of that at some point (erm...not me of course).

What this woman did was horrible to the extreme. But criminalize what? She could have done the same thing by leaving nasty notes for the girl, or corresponding through the mail.

Emotional assault? You are misappropriating a word with a specific legal meaning. Assault is physical striking of another person. Attempting to use its legal meaning in an emotional context misconstrues and twists the word.

I am a libertarian at heart, and mindful that the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. I am wary of new laws, regulations and government programs that may help corner cases but end up creating far more problems than they solve (see tort law that increases health care costs for all or single mother welfare that destroys families).

Just my $.02. :-)

Today's Rant said...

Actually 'assault' can be soley a verbal attack. What you are referring to is 'battery' which is a physical attack.

As for being a libertarian, even Ron Paul in his interview on Meet the Press said he would keep organizations like UNICEF that deal with protecting our children.

Are there ridiculous laws out there...absolutely!!! But when it comes to protecting children, we must do what we can to make sure they are cared for.

Thank you for your thoughts...and your $0.02!!!

Today's Rant said...

Lawmakers are looking to have people hold accountability for harassment:

MySpace Is Said to Draw Subpoena in Hoax Case

Gov. Matt Blunt of Missouri set up a committee last month to review state laws on harassment and expand statutes to cover online communication. It will submit a bill in January that retools legislation to cover Internet harassment. Tina Meier, Megan’s mother, testified before the panel last month.

“I can start MySpace on every single one of you, and spread rumors about every single one of you, and what’s going to happen to me? Nothing,” Ms. Meier said. “People need to realize that this is 100 percent not O.K., that you’re going to go to jail.”

Today's Rant said...

Ms. Drew was convicted of three misdemeanor charges of computer fraud. "The first time that a federal statute designed to combat computer crimes was used to prosecute what were essentially abuses of a user agreement on a social networking site." The jury found Ms. Drew guilty of accessing a computer without authorization on three occasions, a reference to the fraudulent postings on MySpace in the name of Josh Evans. (

How are they applying “accessing a computer without authorization” since they were not accessing Megan’s computer but leaving her messages in Cyberspace? What the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act § 1030-Fraud and related activity in connection with computers states in a/5/B that...

(iii) physical injury to any person;
(iv) a threat to public health or safety; or

Today's Rant said...

England Jails Its First Convicted Cyber-Bully|main|dl5|link4|