Cyber Bullying IS Legal
By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
You or your kids can go online and be harassed, abused, and bullied with no consequences. This is what was decided this week in federal court after Lori Drew had violated a law that was too vague to prosecute, according to Judge Wu.
According to prosecutors, Lori had pretended to be a 13 year old boy on My Space. She then coaxed a teenage girl into starting an online relationship with the fake boy. After a while, Drew allegedly told the teenage girl “the world would be better off without her.” The girl then tragically committed suicide.
Drew said it wasn’t her, but the internet provider pointed it back to her IP address and it couldn’t have been anyone else. Or could it? Your IP address is a unique number among four billion addresses worldwide. The internet provider is given a block of these numbers by the American Registry of Internet numbers. The provider assigns them dynamically to their customers when they log onto the internet. The number is then recorded as to which customer account it’s tied to, and there is your chain of evidence.
This is the same way that the music industry attacks people who allegedly download pirated software, but it’s nowhere near foolproof. If the person’s computer has been hijacked by a virus or malware, then the attacker controlling the computer could have been the one who broke the law. The network could also have a weak wireless security setup, and could have been compromised by anyone within 30 feet of the house. There are many more ways it could have happened, but let’s focus instead on the crime of cyber bullying and what this ruling means to you and your family.
Cyber bullying can happen either by email, public posts on social networks, or live in a chat room. You may think it’s easy enough to just ignore the person. There are plenty of tools to do this using ignore features in the programs and websites you go into. If the bully is determined, however, they can just create new accounts anytime they like, and start harassment using an alternative profile. Some of us may shrug off the importance of online relationships, but for those people who use them as a social lifeline, they can be everything to them. They are as real as any real world relationship to many people. And that list is growing. To make it even more a reality, 3D websites have popped up with moving pictures and voice chat that could be easily confused with a person standing next to you if you do it long enough (or have too much caffeine).
The government tried to create a law that prevented people from pretending to be someone else. That’s the law that was allegedly broken by Drew. There was no law that protected people from bullying. Since that time, states like Missouri have tried to create laws to protect people from this type of behavior, but critics say the laws are unconstitutional due to free speech. Apparently you can shout fire in a crowded theater, provided that it’s only a virtual one.
Our children are once again the most vulnerable in this saga. According to secure-kid.com, 20% of all children have said they have been solicited online for sex. Another 10% have been cyber bullied. This is going to be a difficult period for the growth of the internet and use by our children until this matter is resolved.
So, how do you stop it from happening in your home? The first thing I always tell parents is to not allow internet use in any other room but the living room, or use another room where there is almost always a parent to watch over them. I also recommend a content filter on the computer or on the firewall to keep kids from surfing anywhere they please. K9 is a good free filter from download.com. After installing the program, try to go somewhere you shouldn’t to test it out. Remember to think like a kid. You can then customize it fairly easily for additional protection.
If you suspect your children of doing something online that they are keeping secret, then you can also install a keylogger onto your computer. They have to be installed properly or antispyware and antivirus programs will detect them. This type of program will send you a detailed report of everything that has happened on your computer on a daily basis. Are your kids keeping passwords a secret from you? No problem. The keylogger will tell you. BUT, read the terms of service before installing. You don’t want to break the law and get yourself in trouble while trying to protect your kids.
Read all about keyloggers and how they work here before deciding which one to purchase:
For more great tips, check back here each week and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK and at 10:00 AM on KOL in Seattle, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com. To read my latest book “How to be an IT Administrator” go to Amazon.com and type in my name in the search bar.
If you would like your technical question answered here, just email email@example.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column, I will always answer by email.