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Breaking the Law Over the Internet: A Look at the Rules and Precedents


No law maker will ever be able to keep up with technology: it simply moves too fast and changes too often. This leaves our current ambiguous rules open to interpretation, and it can get confusing quickly. The most commonly discussed cases are those that are associated with any type of cyberbullying, and it is worth looking at what has happened so far, so we can start interpreting how things may look in the future.

The Internet and the Law

There are a lot of ways to commit a virtual crime. From relatively straight-forward hacking to the less clear-cut phenomena of tormenting various people over social media. To take a famous tragic case, Michelle Carter let her boyfriend know that he was making the right decision if he chose to kill himself, and set about putting the pressure on him to do so in text message form.

If this had happened in private ‘in-person’ conversations, there’s a good chance Michelle Carter would not have been implicated in any way. However, because of the eternity of the internet, she will now stand trial for manslaughter. While many states don’t have legislation in place that directly addresses the serious nature of what cyberbullying does to the victims, there is a way to prosecute people under the laws of criminal harassment.

Open to Interpretation

You can likely already see how tricky it can be when it comes to internet crimes. When people use a computer or a smartphone, they may feel like they’re interacting with a machine. It’s hard to imagine the person on the other side, who may be not be able to absorb what’s being said to them. The smartphone doesn’t remind us that what we’re sending may have unknown consequences. However, even without the advent of technology, people have been saying terrible things to each other for centuries.

We would never think to call the police when a group of kids verbally gangs up on the least popular kid in the class. To a certain extent, it’s what hierarchies in society have programmed people to do. Prior to the rash of suicides seen after extreme internet shaming, most people would never think to involve the police about trolls on the internet saying truly terrible things to other people. It can get very complicated for people to try to untangle the rules behind free speech and harassment.

A Better Defense for the Changing Times

As much as the process may be slow, lawmakers are not standing still in terms of trying to push through new laws that speak directly to the nature of the crime. A Senator in Texas is trying to implement new legislation after working with a family whose son killed himself after being bullied on the internet. However, just like anything, these new rules have the opportunity to be used for the wrong reasons.

Should someone be prosecuted for manslaughter for saying one terrible thing in the heat of the moment? It could open up a slew of cases that simply don’t warrant a trial. It takes a skilled criminal defense attorney to begin maneuvering these cases to achieve a fair outcome, and it takes someone who understands the changing face of technology to have an idea of how to best structure defenses in the future as well.

If you are facing any type of computer crimes charge, contact Patrick J. McLain, attorney at law, immediately. He will use his experience in defending internet crimes to help create the best defense possible for you.

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