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New Anti-Stalking Bill Covers Internet, Text Harassment

On Monday, state lawmakers in both the House and the Senate approved a new bill that would revise Arizona’s anti-stalking law to incorporate electronic communications, reports.

House Bill 2549 includes both smartphone and cyber communications within its definition of stalking. However, it doesn’t include harassment on social media sites like Facebook.

The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Ted Vogt, stressed that Arizona’s 40-year-old anti-stalking law is in dire need of an update. “It was put on the books back in the early ’70s and we’ve just never gotten around to updating it, and the fact of the matter is we communicate in a vastly different way in 2012,” Vogt said.

An earlier version of the bill came under fire recently from social media users. The older version of the bill would have made it a crime to “annoy” or “offend” someone online. The new bill removes that language over concerns about free speech issues.

The revised bill incorporates new forms of communication by making it illegal to “terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass” a person through various forms of electronic communication like email, texts, or instant messages. However, the bill excludes social media sites like Facebook or Twitter from its definition of electronic communications.

“If you’re leaving your Facebook message board open, you’re basically soliciting people to leave messages there,” Vogt explained. “And especially with Facebook you have the ability to delete those posts and ban a user.”

Stalking is a relatively new crime. It’s generally defined as a pattern of conduct involving harassment and threats to another person that puts that person in fear for his or her safety. Under Arizona’s current law, if the conduct would put a reasonable person in fear for her safety or the safety of her family, it’s a Class 5 felony. If the conduct would cause a reasonable person to fear death or the death of her family, it’s a Class 3 felony.

The new anti-stalking bill will now go to Gov. Jan Brewer to sign or veto. If it’s passed into law, the bill will hopefully have a chilling effect on electronic harassment.

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