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  • LaDonna Humphrey

The More You Know: Federal Laws and Online Harassment.

At the U.S. federal level, there are laws that address online abuse, including stalking, interstate threats, harassment via telecommunications, hacking, and identity theft.

U.S. federal laws apply to cyber crimes committed across state lines or using a channel of interstate communication (such as telephones or the internet). The principal federal laws in this area prohibit:

  • Using the internet to severely harass or stalk someone

  • Making threats across state lines

  • Making harassing or threatening phone calls or sending harassing or threatening messages across state lines

  • Computer hacking

  • Identity theft

How to Report Online Abuse at the Federal Level

Deciding whether to report online abuse to the federal government and/or to local law enforcement can be confusing and intimidating.

If you feel that online abuse has put you or your family in immediate danger, contact local law enforcement. If the online abuse you are experiencing involves an intimate partner based locally and/or involves people you know to be local, it may be more effective to start by reporting to local law enforcement. Furthermore, contacting local law enforcement to file a report of the online abuse you’re experiencing creates a paper trail that can also be very useful should you decide to report online abuse at the federal level. The local police precinct will take a report of your complaint and can refer you to the appropriate federal agency. You can learn more about involving local law enforcement when facing online abuse in this Field Manual.

Some severely abusive tactics (such as stalking, hacking, and threats) may be considered a federal crime. If you are experiencing severe online abuse, you may decide to report these incidents to local law enforcement and to the federal government. Here is a rundown of different categories of cyber crime and which federal agency to contact. You can report these crimes to your local FBI field office and/or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3 can review a complaint and refer it to the appropriate law enforcement agency. However, one of the main purposes for the IC3 is for federal law enforcers to monitor trends and repeat offenders.

Moral of the story: If you are being harassed, threatened or stalked online, keep a log of the activities, take screen shots, and ask others who have seen the harassment to sign sworn statements. With the evidence in hand, the authorities will get involved to put a stop to the harassment.


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