Friday, May 18, 2012

Stronger Laws Needed for Web Threats

This is undoubtedly one case where there ought to be a law. Society must catch up to the malevolence all too prevalent on the Internet. Some should be deemed criminal.

The case in point: Drew and Joyce Kesse have been living a parent’s worst nightmare for the past four years — the unsolved abduction of their 24-year-old daughter, Jennifer, in Orlando. The Bradenton couple’s efforts to secure information about their daughter’s disappearance includes an Internet site stocked with images, appearances on national television and other publicity.

Their determined and admirable efforts have generated a great deal of sympathy, encouragement and leads, especially in postings on the Web at www.jennifer kesse.com.

Compounding their anguish, though, are the miscreants and parasites who exhibit twisted behavior and threatening comments via the Internet — all beyond the pale. “Weird crap,” Drew Kesse told Herald reporter Beth Burger for an in-depth article Sunday on the fourth anniversary of Jennifer’s kidnapping.

One lowlife attempted to extort millions, maintaining he held her for ransom. Another even claimed to have killed her along with more than a dozen others in a YouTube video.

But the veiled threats from one person — posted across some 100 pages on the family’s Web site — are deeply disturbing.

Plus, someone left threatening phone messages, one stating: “You’re gonna pay.” With some detective work by a Webmaster and prosecutors, the Kesses discovered the source of the phone calls matched the residence of the threatening poster’s computer.

Unfortunately, the Kesses have discovered that as abhorrent as all this is, criminal it is not.

The Manatee County Circuit Court declined to grant the family an injunction in the case, ruling the perpetrator’s identity had not been proven and the threat was not credible enough by legal standards.

Florida lacks a law against menacing threats delivered via electronic media. The state’s cyber stalking law requires threats be credible, which means the comments must be explicit about personal harm or death and the perpetrator must have the means to execute the threat.

Apparently, the Kesses’ tormentor has not quite crossed that line. In addition, proving who’s working the keyboard beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult without witness cooperation or a confession.

Come March when the regular session of the state Legislature convenes, lawmakers will be met by a bill that makes online written communication with threats of bodily harm or death a second-degree felony. That would cover e-mail, social networking sites like Facebook and postings on sites such as www.jenniferkesse.com.

In Burger’s report, Bradenton criminal defense attorney Mark Lipinski advocated the legislation include menacing communication as well — which would then cover the Kesses’ case.

Nobody should have to endure that kind of endless and senseless harassment. Florida law needs to catch up to technology and provide protections from these kinds of online threats, which should be considered terrorism of a sort.

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