Certain types of online harassment would become stalking crimes under a bill approved Thursday by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
The proposal, which was approved unanimously by the panel ahead of its Friday deadline to pass bills, would adjust Connecticut stalking laws to include some forms of harassment over the Internet.
“This is a bill that comes to us looking to deal with what we are seeing is an increase in online harassment,” Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who is co-chairman of the committee said.
If adopted by the General Assembly, the proposal would broaden first degree stalking to include hate-based online attacks. The bill includes harassment directed at someone’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Second degree stalking would include giving out another person’s personal electronic information without their consent. The bill also establishes civil actions for victims of online harassment.
In written testimony submitted for the bill’s public hearing last month, State Victim Advocate Natasha Pierre said the proposal would update current harassment and stalking statutes to reflect advances in technology.
“Unfortunately, some who use this technology have used it to stalk or harass a victim relentlessly, without accountability or have caused others to engage in unlawful conduct against the victim,” Pierre wrote.
Kelly McConney Moore, interim senior policy counsel for ACLU of Connecticut, submitted testimony praising the intent of the bill. But she worried the language had First Amendment implications and risked criminalizing third party users who shared content deemed to be harassment.
“While the intent of this bill is good – and becoming more necessary as doxing of people for their religious or political affiliations intensifies – as written it has the potential to chill protected speech and potentially criminalize valuable speech,” Moore wrote.