A potentially lethal form of prank-calling could soon be banned with stiffer penalties, under a piece of legislation that just passed a crucial vote in Congress.
The bill takes aim at a tactic known as "swatting" — where a prankster calls the police and alerts them to a bomb threat or other criminal activity going down at the target's house. Unable to tell the difference between a fake threat and a real one, the authorities send a SWAT team to storm the victim's abode, guns drawn. And the victim has no choice but to endure the abuse.
It's a form of primarily Internet-driven trolling that's become all too common, lawmakers say. Look it up on YouTube and you'll get tens of thousands of results like this one.
Video gamers are often the victims — and the perpetrators. Some players broadcast their hobby online, with cameras trained on their own faces. So when a particularly nasty gamer wants the instant, visual gratification of humiliating his or her in-game rival in real time, pop goes the call to 911.
But gamers aren't the only people who've been subjected to this kind of harassment. Journalists, politicians and celebrities have all been targeted.
The bill that just passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee would impose up to a 20-year prison sentence and heavy fines for pulling the stunt, defined in the text as "the transmission of misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to trigger a response by a law enforcement agency."
In part, the swatting trend underscores how easy it is, in the Internet age, for a harasser to dig up personal information belonging to their targets, such as their addresses. It also mirrors the growing militarization of police forces across the country, a trend that simply makes it easier for more police departments to meet situations with guns and tactical gear. And it highlights the blurring boundaries between online spaces and offline spaces — increasingly, the Internet is the same as real life.
The bill's next hurdle will be a floor vote in the House.