Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/07/2003 01:02 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 12 - HARASSMENT BY ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION Number 0044 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 12, "An Act relating to harassment." Number 0063 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved to adopt the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 12, version 23-LS0050\D, Luckhaupt, 1/22/03, as the work draft. There being no objection, Version D was before the committee. Number 0089 REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MEYER, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, explained that Version D changes the title of HB 12 so that it now reads: "An act relating to the crime of harassment committed by use of electronic communication." REPRESENTATIVE MEYER went on to say that HB 12 merely adds "electronic communication" to the list detailing what constitutes the crime of harassment. Current statute does not provide law enforcement with the necessary tools with which to pursue people who harass others via electronic communications. Harassment via electronic communication, he remarked, has become an inexpensive and attractive method of harassment for many who are unwilling to face, either in person or over the phone, those they are harassing. He also remarked that in addition to being a serious crime on its own, harassing others is often a prelude to more serious crimes. He opined that HB 12 will create an important tool for law enforcement officers as they pursue perpetrators who use electronic communications to harass others. Representative Meyer urged members to support HB 12. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG noted that he has a proposed amendment that will, on line 12, after "or", add "obscene", and provide for some grammatical adjustments. REPRESENTATIVE MEYER said that he supports such an amendment. Number 0381 LEO BRANDLEN, President, Board of Directors, Alaska Peace Officers Association (APOA), said simply that the APOA has sent a letter of support to the committee, and is in support of both HB 12 and the suggested amendment. He observed that HB 12 will cover both e-mails and "text messaging." Number 0495 RICHARD RHEA, Anchorage Police Department (APD), Municipality of Anchorage (MOA), said simply that he supports HB 12. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG noted that the committee has received Mr. Rhea's letter. Number 0543 ANNE CARPENETI, Assistant Attorney General, Legal Services Section-Juneau, Criminal Division, Department of Law (DOL), remarked that the DOL supports HB 12. She suggested that the proposed amendment be altered such that, after "call" on line 12, insert ", obscene electronic communication,". She also remarked that most of the e-mail communications in question are anonymous. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG expressed a willingness to consider that language in place of his original suggestion. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON, after reading the language in current statute, the language in Version D, and the language in the DOL's suggested language change, asked whether the intent of that suggested language is to separate "obscene electronic communication" from "anonymous". [Ms. Carpeneti nodded yes.] REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON referred to page 10 of a handout provided to the committee titled "1999 Report on Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry." He said that according to the second paragraph on page 10 under the heading "Law enforcement response: the challenge of anonymity," one form of anonymous service is established via a false electronic mailbox. From that same paragraph on page 10 he then read, "The second form comprises mail servers that purposefully strip identifying information and transport headers from electronic mail." He relayed that the report goes on to talk about "remailers," in which "you go from one account to another account to another account, and then you can't trace it." He asked whether the suggested language would restrict HB 12 from applying to anonymous e-mails such as remailers. MS. CARPENETI offered her belief that the suggested amendment would preclude HB 12 from applying to anonymous e-mails. "The amendment would only make it harassment under a (a)(4) to send electronic communications that are ... obscene or ... that threaten physical injury," she added. REPRESENTATIVE MEYER indicated that he agreed with the intent of the suggested amendment. He mentioned that the Anchorage Assembly has already "passed" similar language. MS. CARPENETI, in response to further questions regarding the intent of the legislation and the suggested amendment, explained that with anonymous e-mails, it would be difficult to find and prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the author intends to harass the recipient. Number 1012 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG mentioned a recent U.S. Supreme Court case that said there is a constitutional right for anonymous editorials, and that the right of free speech - and in that case free press as an adjunct - implies and carries with it the right to do so anonymously. The key thing [with HB 12], he noted, "is that you have the criminal intent." From a strictly constitutional point of view, he said, he is glad that law enforcement does not pursue authors of anonymous e-mails simply because the e-mails annoy somebody; for example, political statements can be annoying to some people. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON referred to page 6 of the aforementioned report and noted that under the heading "Actual Cyberstalking Incidents," it mentions the use of Internet chat rooms and online bulletin boards in stalking incidents. He pointed out that under this same heading there is also mention of a prosecutor in Massachusetts charging a man who utilized anonymous remailers to systematically harass a co-worker. So this does occur and there is prosecution for it, he remarked. MS. CARPENETI remarked that Alaska statutes already prohibit stalking, and ventured that such examples as listed in the report might qualify as stalking itself. She said that she would research that issue further. Harassment, she pointed out, is a class B misdemeanor. In response to further comments, she mentioned that statutes addressing cybercrimes have recently been enacted. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON raised the issue of defining the term "electronic communication". He noted that it is not currently defined in either the bill or Title 11. He recommended that the committee draft a letter of intent that clarifies what the committee views as an "electronic communication". REPRESENTATIVE MEYER remarked that he would welcome a letter of intent. Number 1304 CHAIR McGUIRE noted that currently, "electronic communication" is defined in Title 42; she opined, however, that this definition is too broad and doesn't really apply to the issue at hand. She remarked that simply creating a letter of intent is fine with her. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG suggested that because law enforcement officials, the court system, and the general public won't necessarily be aware that there is a letter of intent stipulating exactly what is meant by the term "electronic communication, it would be better to define the term within the [proposed] statute itself. By doing so, he posited, the committee will be assured that all parties will define the term as intended. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM suggested that any definition created now may quickly become obsolete and not inclusive enough, and might thus require constant alterations. CHAIR McGUIRE, on that point, said that rather than having a narrow definition in the statute, she would prefer to have a letter of intent that contains a "living" definition of "electronic communication" such that it would be as inclusive as possible while still allowing for technological advances. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG suggested, then, that the committee ought to consider the suggested amendment, pass the bill out of committee, and have staff spend the next few days creating the letter of intent so that it can then be included in the bill packet as it continues through the process. Number 1566 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON made a motion to adopt Amendment 1 [original punctuation provided; current line numbers pertain to the original bill and may need to be changed to fit Version D]: Page 1, lines 11 - 13: Delete all material and insert: "(4) makes an anonymous or obscene telephone call, obscene electronic communication, or a telephone call or electronic communication that threatens physical injury; or" CHAIR McGUIRE asked whether there were any objections to Amendment 1. There being no objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. Number 1583 CHAIR McGUIRE then directed members of staff to form "a subcommittee of intent," the duty of which shall be to create the letter of intent, which can then be added to the bill packet in time to go to the House floor. Number 1606 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved to report the proposed CS for HB 12, version 23-LS0050\D, Luckhaupt, 1/22/03, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations, the accompanying fiscal notes, [and the forthcoming letter of intent]. There being no objection, CSHB 12(JUD) was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.