Clark bill aims to combat dangerous ‘swatting’ hoaxes

Washington, D.C.  – Today, Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Congressman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) introduced the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, legislation to combat attacks known as swatting. Swatting is defined as the intentional misleading of emergency responders in order to provoke a S.W.A.T. team response. In recent years, swatting has become a widely used tool for online harassers to attack journalists, academics, domestic violence survivors, and celebrities. Perpetrators locate victims’ private information online and use technology to conceal their identity as they contact emergency responders. In one recent swatting attack, a 10 year old became the unintended victim of swatting when an armed S.W.A.T. team raided his home after an anonymous call falsely reported there was a shooter inside. 

While federal law prohibits using the telecommunications system to falsely report a bomb threat hoax or a terrorist attack, falsely reporting other emergency situations is not currently prohibited. The Interstate Swatting Hoax Act would close this loophole by prohibiting the use of the interstate telecommunications system to knowingly transmit false information with the intent to cause an emergency law enforcement response.

Recently reported cases included a string of swatting attacks in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts. Several cases of bogus calls to police departments in Framingham and Ashland were all reported within a six month period. Similar incidents have been reported in Delaware and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania.

“Perpetrators of these hoaxes purposefully use our emergency responders to harm their victims,” said Clark. “These false reports are dangerous and costly, and have resulted in serious injury to victims and law enforcement. It is time to update our laws to appropriately address this crime.”

“Our law enforcement personnel are already struggling to protect our communities with limited resources,” said Meehan. “The wave of ‘swatting’ incidents are costing our police departments time and tax dollars. ‘Swatting’ cases divert attention from serious situations that require the attention of highly trained personnel and puts innocent civilians at risk. This legislation updates federal statute and makes it clear that ‘swatting’ is no joke.”

The FBI estimates 400 swatting attacks occur every year. Some attacks, however, have been reported to cost local law enforcement agencies as much as $100,000.  The most serious cost of these attacks is the danger they pose to emergency responders, innocent victims, and their families. Swatting attacks have resulted in injury to law enforcement officers, heart attacks, and serious injury to victims.

Clark has championed combatting severe online threats and abuse, which disproportionately affects women and girls. Clark successfully garnered the U.S. House’s backing to instruct the Department of Justice to investigate severe online threats, and to use existing laws to prosecute these crimes. Clark introduced the Prioritizing Online Threats Enforcement Act to ensure that federal law enforcement has the resources they need to enforce laws regarding the use of the internet to perpetuate severe threats.

Meehan, a former U.S. Attorney and local prosecutor, has worked extensively on criminal justice issues during his tenure in Congress. Meehan chaired the Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee in the 113th Congress and led the effort to enact the first significant cybersecurity legislation in a decade. He’s examined closely the use of communications networks to disrupt the operations of law enforcement and other first responders.

The Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015 has received the support of:  the National District Attorneys Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, the Women’s Media Center, Hollaback!, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the SPARK Movement, Women, Action & the Media, the WMC Speech Project, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the FBI Agents Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association.

Full text of the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015 can be found here.