SALT LAKE CITY — A state legislator wants Utah to take on a wave of emerging cybercrime with tougher laws for making false police reports or harassing people using electronic devices.
Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, says the law is inadequate when it comes to "swatting," "doxxing" and attacking critical public safety, health and welfare systems.
"It is illegal to do some of the things at the federal level. However, unless the amount of the fraud, the amount of the crime damage reaches $1 million, typically the federal government, the FBI will not even investigate crimes like that," he said.
Lifferth said he learned some of those crimes are happening in Utah, so he worked with the Utah Department of Public Safety to address issues the state otherwise wouldn't be able to address.
"This is a new frontier," said Maj. Brian Redd of the state Bureau of Investigation. "There's a lot that needs to be looked at here."
Swatting is an Internet prank where a cybercriminal makes a false emergency or violent crime report, usually with the expectation that a SWAT team would show at the home of the person being targeted.
"If you have law enforcement showing up a your house — and you're sitting there just watching TV — with guns drawn, that is traumatic and you're a victim of a crime," Redd said.
HB225 would make electronically reporting a false crime a third-degree felony, and it would bump to a second-degree felony if someone were injured.
Doxxing is when someone through hacking or cyberstalking, gathers personal information on someone and broadcasts it with the intent to intimidate or harm.
Lifferth said he's removing the specific reference to doxxing from his bill due to free speech concerns. Posting personal information about someone online isn't in and of itself a crime, he said.
For that reason, he said, he's removing the words annoy, offend and frighten from the bill. But it would include alarm, intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or disrupt. Implying those things goes beyond freedom of speech rights and the ability for people to express themselves publicly, he said.
"Criticizing a public official is something that is legitimate to do. Complaining about a business interaction that has gone bad, that's a legitimate thing to do, Lifferth said.
"But when you step beyond that and begin to threaten someone, threaten someone in their home or place of business, then you've gone too far. I want to make sure that is no longer legal."
The bill also takes aim at people who launch cyberattacks that could harm public safety and welfare, such as a water treatment plant, traffic lights or utilities.Comment on this story
The public safety department has had a cybercrimes task force since 2012. Redd said finding and prosecuting cybercriminals is difficult. Perpetrators could be located anywhere in the world.
"There's still old-fashioned police work that has to occur even when we find a system that has been touched," he said, adding that law local enforcement works with other state police and the FBI nationally and internationally. "We can work these channels but it takes a lot time and is very resource intensive.
Redd said he hopes the proposed law would deter cybercrime.