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STATEHOUSE

Senate asked to afford same safety online as on the phone

Writer says nightmare stems from law lagging technology.

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN, Telegraph Staff

CONCORD – Jayne Hitchcock says she became the kind of target for Internet harassment that is any computer user’s nightmare.

"They deliberately did this to me. It’s not a random thing. I know they were looking for me and even since we’ve moved to New England, some strange things have been happening,’’ Hitchcock told a legislative panel Wednesday.

"It was pretty horrifying. I called the police, the FBI, the attorney general – no one could help me because there was no law.’’

Hitchcock pressed the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve legislation that would create the crime of using the computer to harass someone, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine (HB 345).

The panel responded by passing this bill unanimously. The only change was to move its effective date up to as soon as it’s signed by Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, instead of next Jan. 1.

The bill already has passed the House of Representatives.

Maryland and California are among a growing number of states that are updating harassment laws to include threats made on the World Wide Web.

"This gives police departments the tools to battle harassment of any kind over the Internet,’’ said Rep. Joseph Stone, R-Deerfield, the bill’s prime sponsor.

Rep. Richard Dolan, R-Raymond, a retired police chief, said that sadly, this is the wave of the future.

"The people who used to harass by the telephone are now using the computer to do it,’’ Dolan said.

Hitchcock, the former Maryland woman and international author, said she turned over to New York authorities valuable information about a scam artist ring carried out against writers online back in 1996.

Hitchcock’s reward was to become the constant source for thousands of e-mail bombs and then threatening e-mail messages and forged statements in which she verbally assaulted former staff at the University of Maryland University College, she said.

"I’m an assistant teacher at UMUC and I think you and the whole bunch of UMUC are a bunch of morons insidiously festering away your small brains. I may or I may not resign. I may stay to awaken you idiots,’’ read one false e-mail that was sent to all of her UMUC faculty peers, she said.

The most frightening came when they falsified a sexually explicit personal ad on such controversial sites as alt.bestiality and alt.skinheads, she said.

"Female international author, no limits to imagination and fantasies, prefers macho/sadistic interaction, including love bites and indiscriminate scratches,’’ one of them said.

Even since moving to New England with an unpublished telephone number and an undisclosed, out-of-New Hampshire address, Hitchcock said she has spotted people outside her house and had to alert police.

That stalking may stem from a $10 million civil suit Hitchcock said she lodged in New York against the scam artists.

"When it comes right down to it, if this had happened to me over the phone, it would have been a crime,’’ Hitchcock said.

"If it had happened to me face-to-face, it would have been a crime. This is not a matter of free speech or a violation of the First Amendment. Harassment is harassment, period,’’ Hitchcock said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, went out to swap stories with Hitchcock after the hearing.

Pignatelli said she got "a very disgusting message’’ disguised online as an e-mail from each of her two sons. The note was sent to all of her sons’ regular message writers.

"I had to cancel my service and get another server. At the time a few years ago, I didn’t know if there was anything we could do,’’ Pignatelli said.

The Senate is expected to vote on this bill next week.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached by calling 224-8804 or by e-mail at kland@ici.net.


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