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Monday, March 2, 2009

Cyberbullying: A Destructive Computer Activity

The latest “trend” in destructive computer activity does not appear to be hacking or phishing (although statistics indicate that these behaviors are on the rise); but rather, the often overlooked (although occasionally sensationalized) issue of cyber-bullying.

In the summer of 2008, a 49 year old mother in Los Angeles was indicted on charges of conspiracy and unauthorized access to a computer for assisting her daughter manufacture a phony profile of a 16 year old boy on the popular social networking site MySpace. The purpose of the profile was to harass and humiliate one of the daughter’s former classmates by engaging in a flirtatious online relationship with the classmate, and then psychologically abusing the 14 year old classmate by rejecting her. Unfortunately, the classmate took the rejection much harder than anybody anticipated and ended up hanging herself in her bedroom closet. In November of 2008, the mother was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of illegally accessing computers by violating the MySpace terms of service. More recently, Australia has experienced what is being termed an “epidemic” of cyber-bullying as 10 teenagers have killed themselves after being bullied by people online, primarily at social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. The issue has become so prevalent that the school board in Bozeman, Montana is looking into adding cyber-bulling to its list of anti-bullying policy.

VIRGINIA COMPUTER CRIMES ACT

Virginia has enacted a Computer Crimes Act which contains specific laws that that prohibit causing physical injury to another through the use of a computer or computer network. See, e.g., Va. Code § 18.2-152.7. In addition, Virginia has statutes that create a civil action for violations of the Computer Crimes Act. See, e.g., Va. Code § 18.2-152.12. Moreover, the settlement of the civil cases related to the Virginia Tech massacre indicates that schools may have an obligation to ensure the safety of their students, at least when the students are on school property. It seems that the short lesson from all of these tragic stories is that the legal system does have a role to play in addressing the growing problem of cyber-bullying.

There are potential civil and criminal remedies available for the victims of a “cyber-bully”, which means that there are serious consequences for engaging in “cyber-bullying”. The internet is no longer anonymous and, as seen in the MySpace case, violations of terms of service agreements can result in criminal liability. These types of situations are rife with cutting-edge legal theories; so if you want to ensure that your rights are protected, you need a law firm that has extensive experience handling criminal charges and personal injury claims. The law firm needs to be on the cutting-edge of the intersection of law and technology.

LEGAL ASSISTANCE

The attorneys at Gross & Romanick, P.C. are experienced in the criminal defense of cybercrimes such as hacking, cracking, phreaking, phishing, pornography and spamming. The firm’s attorneys understand the law and also understand the technology. The firm also can assert the victim’s rights in a civil suit for damages. Cyber-bullying has real victims that feel the effects outside of cyberspace and it is imperative that victims seeking to recover damages have a lawyer that understands the intersection of law and technology. Call us today at (703) 273-1400 or visit our website at www.gross.com.

© 2009, Gross & Romanick, P.C.