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Friday, November 30, 2007

St. Louis Proposes Law Against “Cyber-Harassment”

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2007 at 3:10 PM

In response to the escalating rage over the death of St. Charles teen Megan Meier, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen today introduced legislation that would make “cyber-harassment” a crime.

If approved, the Board Bill 404, sponsored by Board of Aldermen president Lewis Reed and Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin, would prohibit “harassment by means or use of the Internet or other electronic communications.” The offense would carry a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail.

St. Louis is not the first Missouri city to respond to the controversy with legislation in recent weeks. Florissant and Dardenne Prairie (where Meier lived), passed similar ordinances last week, and the neighboring city of St. Charles is reportedly considering a law that would carry a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

“It is my hope that we can avoid future situations like those that have affected surrounding communities,” Ford-Griffin said.

The text of the bill is not yet available on the city’s online database but a press release covering the topic included an overview that describes the Alderman’s broadly encompassing definition of “cyber-harassment.”

The document states: “Cyber-harassment consists of…an individual [that] intends to harass, alarm, annoy, abuse, threaten, intimidate, torment or embarrass any other person by means of the transmission of electronic communication.”

Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, says his organization is concerned that rash legislation will have unintended consequences.

“Our concern is that people are being too hasty in responding to a specific situation, and not being careful in narrowly drawing a statute,” he says. “The danger is, if the law is struck down as being overly broad it is completely struck down so it wouldn’t even protect the people they’re trying to protect. Really they should be careful and diligent rather try and ramrod something through.”

According to Rory Roundtree, an assistant to Reed, says the proposed legislation still has to clear the committee process and the earliest it could become an ordinance is the end of January.

-Keegan Hamilton

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