- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, Massachusetts Democrat, has promised to “double down” on her efforts to combat online abuse after she became a the victim of a cyber prank on Sunday night that ended with multiple police officers arriving at her home in search of an active shooter.

Law enforcement didn’t discover any gunmen at Ms. Clark’s Melrose, Massachusetts, home, nor were there any to begin with. Instead, the congresswomen had been on the receiving end of a “swatting” prank: an Internet-enabled gag in which perpetrators obtain a target’s personal information online and then dial 911 to report a fake emergency at that person’s home, often using software to anonymize their identity.

The chief of the Melrose Police Department said in a statement on Monday that authorities had received a computer-generated phone call from an unknown person the night prior in which they were told that there were “shots fired” and an “active shooter” at the home.

“It appears that someone was trying to elicit a police response by making a false report,” Chief Michael L. Lyle said. “We take incidents like this very seriously, and will conduct a thorough investigation.”

Even if that probe identifies the person or persons responsible, however, federal law does not at this time prohibit using telecommunications system to falsely report emergency situations, like active shooters.

Indeed, Ms. Clark has aimed to change that, and in November she introduced the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015 in an effort to close that loophole and make reporting phony shooter situations as serious as a crime as falsifying a bomb threat or terrorist attack.

“Perpetrators of these hoaxes purposefully use our emergency responders to harm their victims,” she said when she introduced her proposal. “These false reports are dangerous and costly, and have resulted in serious injury to victims and law enforcement. It is time to update our laws to appropriately address this crime.”

Ms. Clark’s bill hasn’t moved out of committee since being introduced last year, but the congresswoman told the Boston Globe that Sunday night’s incident “will really cause me to double down” on her efforts.

“No mother should have to answer the door to the police in the middle of the night and fear for her family’s safety simply because an anonymous person disagrees with her,” she said in a statement.

Nationwide, the FBI responds to around 400 swatting pranks each year. If Ms. Clark’s act is passed, perpetrators could face life sentences in prison if a death occurs as the result of a swatting hoax, and law enforcement would be able to seek compensation to recover the costs of dispatching a SWAT team.

Ms. Clark told the Boston Herald that she will speak more of her anti-swatting efforts at the South by Southwest Festival next month in Texas during an all-day Online Harassment Summit.

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