Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/12/2003 01:31 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 REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MEYER introduced HB 12 saying it lists electronic communication as a method of harassment. Current statutes do not allow for electronic communication as a means of harassment, which has been a problem for Alaska law enforcement agencies. With the low cost and ease of access to computers, more and more harassment is being done via the computer and electronic communication. An individual who may not want to confront a person personally or on the telephone may feel very comfortable doing it via email. In fact some people are so good on computers they can program their computer to automatically send harassing messages at regular intervals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Online harassment or harassment in general really is not a serious crime but it often is a prelude to more serious crimes so the sooner the perpetrator can be caught the better. It is a relatively new problem for Alaska's law enforcement agencies yet it is growing as more people get access to computers. Law enforcement has been catching people who are harassing via the Internet, but there is no statute to prosecute the perpetrators. Law enforcement personnel approached him with their frustration last summer and that is why the bill is before the committee. The bill evolved relatively quickly through the House with a couple of amendments. House Judiciary felt harassment by use of electronic communication was too difficult to define in statute so they added a letter of intent as to what it is and kept the definition fairly broad so it would be able to evolve as electronic communication evolves. The second amendment was made on the floor of the House of Representatives by the Minority Leader. That amendment adds the words "or sexual contact" on page 1, line 14. There was quite a bit of debate on the issue. Representative Meyer felt that, on page 1, line 12 and 13, that says "an obscene electronic communication" would cover "sexual contact." There are quite a few lawyers in the House and they each pulled out their different definition of obscene. They decided it would be covered if the words "sexual contact" were included. The addition does not change the bill and if anything it makes the bill stronger so the amendment was accepted. SENATOR OGAN moved CSHB 12(JUD) am \Q.A as the bill before the committee. There being no objection, it was so ordered. SENATOR THERRIAULT said he was a little leery of amendments made on the floor. He asked if Representative Meyer received any kind of memo from the drafters cautioning him on the use of the wording. REPRESENTATIVE MEYER conferred with his staff and reported they were in contact with the drafter and there was no problem with the amendment. SENATOR OGAN thought the issue of obscene electronic communication is one with which all parents grapple. He has always been concerned about unsolicited obscene material because everybody who has been on a computer has unwittingly visited some obscene site. He is concerned this is a snare that is used by pornographers to snare children into antisocial behavior that is destructive to their moral fiber. He asked if this was a vehicle by which they might be able to address that problem. REPRESENTATIVE MEYER informed the committee HB 82 is currently scheduled with the Labor and Commerce Committee and deals specifically with unsolicited sexual explicit material. It is going to make the material illegal unless the subject line contains adult material. That way children will know not to open the email or better yet the computer can be set to filter out the word adult so the children will not receive that type of material. HB 12 deals strictly with harassment and putting electronic communication as a means of harassment in statute. When people are sending out emails saying, "I want to kill you" or threatening things like that, Alaskan law enforcement agencies can do something about it. Right now they cannot. SERGEANT CURT HARRIS, Alaska State Troopers, said he did not have any specific testimony, but was available for questions. He said the Alaska State Troopers are supportive of the legislation. SENATOR OGAN asked if the Alaska State Troopers have people with the training to specialize in electronic crimes with the ability to detect these crimes and trace the origins. SERGEANT HARRIS answered yes. The Alaska State Troopers address electronic crimes through their white-collar crime section. It is a portion of the Criminal Investigation Bureau. He obtained that training and has experience in that area. There are two other investigators in the unit that are coming up to speed with that capability. SENATOR THERRIAULT moved CSHB 12(JUD) am from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal notes. There being no objection, it was so ordered. SENATOR ELLIS noted he was also a sponsor of legislation on unsolicited spam email of various kinds. Spam email clogs up small businesses and private parties to the tune of billions of dollars a year. It may be something the committee also wants to consider.