Houston sponsors bill aimed at cyberstalking | October 10, 2008 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Newsfront - October 10, 2008

Houston sponsors bill aimed at cyberstalking

Danville teen's experience leads to new legislation

by Geoff Gillette

Popular Internet social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have given a new dimension to crimes such as harassment and stalking. Police had limited options to combat the offenses - until the passage of Assembly Bill 919.

AB 919, sponsored by Assemblyman Guy Houston (R., 15th), is designed to protect people from online harassment and abuse.

The legislation came about after an incident two years ago where Monte Vista High School senior Morgan Dillingham was the victim of an Internet prank.

Kathy Dillingham, the student's mother, explained what happened. "Two years ago my daughter was on winter break with another family and she started getting calls on her cell phone from all these men," she recalled. "They were saying such awful things to her. It rang so much she turned her phone off. Later she called one of the men back and asked where he got her number and he said he saw it on Craigslist."

Dillingham said there were so many calls to her daughter's phone that they had to discontinue the line.

The family learned that an unknown person had taken pictures from Morgan's MySpace page and pasted the pictures and the girl's phone number onto an ad in the personals section of Craigslist. The title of the ad was "19 year old girl in need of lust." Dillingham said the ad also listed her ex-husband's address.

Morgan's parents initially called the Danville Police Department but were told they did not believe there was anything they could do. After some media attention was brought to the incident, Houston's office became involved.

"Guy Houston's office wrote this bill," said Dillingham. "Morgan testified before the Assembly. She actually testified a couple of times. One time I had to testify."

The bill sponsored by Houston provides law enforcement officials with the ability to pursue crimes of this nature and makes it a misdemeanor to use the Internet to intentionally incite a third person to cause fear, harass or harm an individual. Under the law police will be able to get a search warrant for Internet records of a person suspected of cybercrime.

Dillingham said Morgan was harassed by the phone calls, but the family was also concerned about the possibility that someone could show up at their door. "They had her address. We didn't know if someone would be just hanging out waiting for her."

Houston said he hopes the legislation will give police the proper tools to handle this newer type of crime. "California is always at the cutting edge of technological advancement. We need laws to keep up with the technology," he said.

AB 919 was one of several laws approved by Gov. Schwarzenegger on Sept. 30. Dillingham said she appreciated Houston's efforts. "I want to thank Assemblyman Houston for taking action to protect our children from those who use the Internet to harm and harass others."

She added that seeing her efforts on behalf of the bill has had a beneficial effect on her daughter. "Morgan feels empowered and doesn't feel victimized. It showed that one voice can make a difference."