DENVER — Colorado lawmakers are trying to crack down on various types of online harassment with proposals that would classify crimes of the Internet age.
One bill would define cyberbullying and make it a misdemeanor. Another bill tackles the trend of so-called revenge porn, when people publish explicit photos or videos of former romantic partners to humiliate them. But while other states have proposed revenge-porn laws that deal with all ages, Colorado's bill would focus only on minors.
Another proposal addresses commercial websites that publish mug shots of people and charge the victims to remove the photos.
The bills introduced this month underscore how legislators are grappling to define new crimes that may or may not be covered under current laws.
"The way people are being bullied today is different. Traditionally, bullying would take place on playgrounds, but now young people are using Facebook and texting as a form of harassing," said Aurora Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields, the sponsor of a bill to create new misdemeanor penalties for cyberbullying on social media platforms that inflict "serious emotional distress on a minor."
Although people can already face harassment charges for bullying someone with texts or online, Fields said having a specific cyberbullying charge will help law enforcement track frequency of the crime.
Boulder Democratic Rep. K.C. Becker said the legislation that's been introduced so far highlights how "privacy is constantly being compromised" online. Becker is sponsoring the bill dealing with booking photos. It would require the websites to remove booking photos at a person's request, for free, if they were never convicted of the crime they were arrested for. While Becker's bill would not impose criminal penalties, it would allow people to sue if their picture is not removed.
"The websites are very misleading and cause real harm to people. They may not be able to as easily get a job, get a lease. People are making conclusions that aren't accurate," Becker said.
This month, two websites settled a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Toledo and agreed to stop charging people hundreds of dollars to take down their mug shots. Similar laws to what Becker is proposing have passed in Georgia and Utah.
But states that have debated such bills have faced questions of whether the proposals infringe on the First Amendment. That's also a hurdle faced by states that have tried to stop revenge porn. Of several states that have considered legislation against revenge porn, so far only California and New Jersey have passed laws.