U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark , D-Melrose, renewed her push to enact federal protections against cyberstalking and online harassment Friday after five people were killed in a “targeted attack” at a Maryland newspaper office.
Clark, who introduced the Online Safety Modernization Act last June to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute a range of internet-based crimes and threats, argued that the deadly shooting at the Capital Gazette underscores the need for Congress to take action on online safety and other issues.
“The tragedy in Annapolis, Maryland touches on so many crucial issues facing our country. We must stop demonizing the press. We must reform our gun laws. And, we must finally recognize the pervasiveness and danger of online abuse,” she said, pointing to reports that the alleged gunman, Jarrod W. Ramos, had a long-standing grudge against the newspaper and posted online threats against it.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who has personally been the target of cyber harassment, said her bill would provide Congress a roadmap to address the rise in online crimes by modernizing federal law and providing local, state and federal law enforcement with resources and training to identify, prosecute and adjudicate such threats.
She noted that a recent Pew Research Center study found that 20 percent of adult internet users have been affected by cyberstalking and persistent harassment — attacks which the congresswoman argued “often evolve into physical violence.”
Stressing that lawmakers “need to make sure that our policies keep up with the realities of our connected world,” Clark said her legislation would ensure federal law is updated “to provide protections for the millions of Americans who are online right now, navigating their personal and professional lives.”
Clark’s bill, which has sat in the House Judiciary Committee’s sub-panel on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations since July 2017, would provide additional enforcement resources to the FBI and Department of Justice; establish a $20 million-per-year grant program to train and equip state and local law enforcement, prosecutors and judicial personnel on cyber crimes; and set aside $4 million annually to establish a national resource center to help combat and study cyber crimes, among other things.
The legislation further targets an array of online threats, including: “doxxing,” where victims’ private addresses and other personal information are released online; non-consensual pornography, in which victims’ private photos are published without permission; “sextortion,” where private images are used against victims to coerce sexual activity or money; and “swatting,” where people anonymously make false reports prompting a heavily armed police response to a victim’s home — an attack Clark fell victim to in early 2016.
According to the Baltimore Sun , Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit against the Capital Gazette and a columnist over a July 2011 article that looked at a criminal harassment charge brought against him.
A Twitter page that is believed to belong to the suspected gunman included photographs of Thomas Marquardt, the paper’s former editor and publisher, and The Capital’s former owner, Philip Merrill, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Marquardt told the Baltimore Sun that Ramos began harassing the news outlet and staff after the 2011 article, escalating with online threats.
The paper’s former editor and publisher added that he contacted Anne Arundel County police about Ramos in 2013, but nothing happened, according to reports.