Rep. Clark has been battling the seemingly never-ending onslaught of online harassment with a strategic mix of legislature, tech company lobbying, and pressure on the FBI to take such cases seriously. She has sponsored five bills on the issue, with Tuesday’s admission being the most recent.
In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, she explains that her newest bill will require the FBI to include cyber crimes against individuals in their Uniform Crime Reports and the National Incidents Reporting System, as tracking experiences of online harassment has proved difficult for most authorities. That data tracking is currently an option, not a requirement, and Clark urges for the updates to the reporting system to begin even before the bill begins its long journey to law. She writes:
For the millions who work and navigate their personal lives online, cyber abuse has real world consequences... In an economy that is increasingly online, severe online threats, harassment, cyberstalking and other cybercrimes can profoundly impact career choice and economic participation. We need to make sure that, whether crimes happen online or off, our criminal justice system is equipped to respond.
Clark’s experiences with harassment has been quite personal, as a profile in Mother Jones’s September/October issue describes. In addition to an onslaught of threats on social media, her home was “swatted” last January, the practice of anonymously triggering an armed swat team to surround a target’s house.
Clark began her advocacy in 2014 after becoming aware of Gamergate and the death threats and home address doxxing of her district constituent Brianna Wu, whoo was eventually driven to move, fearing for her life. Yet, Wu says when she approached the FBI with considerable evidence of her harassment she got no response. Eight months later they said there was a formatting problem prevented them from reading anything she sent. She says, “The FBI was doing literally nothing.”
Clark met with the FBI about Wu, and says she was told that even if the department had the resources to deal with Wu’s case, it probably wouldn’t bother with it. She adds, “I was flabbergasted to have such a frank statement of basically saying, ‘We just don’t care about this.’”
Along with her continued attempts at legislation that would force investigative services to deal with these crimes, she has been pressuring Silicon Valley to consider what their start-ups are unleashing on unsuspecting targets. She told Mother Jones that the prevalence of male game developers leads to loopholes in technology that they don’t have the foresight to see will lead to further harassment:
“If you are designing a platform that is going to be used universally,” Clark says, “you have to make sure you have a diverse set of eyes that can think ahead and say, ‘This could be exploited in a dangerous way. And what are we going to build in to make sure there are ways to curb abuse of our products?’”
Even if Rep. Clark’s bill goes through, the enforcement of new legislature is the next challenge. As Mother Jones points out, The Violence Against Women Act criminalized cyber stalking in 2006. Between 2010 and 2013, an estimated 2.5 million instances of cyberstalking occurred. Only ten were pursued by federal prosecutors.
You can and should read the rest of Katherine Clark’s profile here.