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State Laws and Policing

Most states have enacted Internet laws. Generally, these laws have evolved alongside and therefore mirror federal law. Most state Internet laws criminalize fraudulent use of computer systems for hacking, damage to computer systems, and unauthorized interception of communication. Several laws have enacted statutes that extend their existing laws on traditional crimes to the Internet, such as a 1995 Connecticut state law that targets online stalking: the law creates criminal liability for sending messages with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person. And while Congress in 2000 and 2001 often debated the issue, most states have enacted their own laws to ban online gambling.

More than a dozen states have passed laws targeting online pornography and sexual predators. Generally, these laws have sought to protect minors from access to porn or other material deemed harmful, such as California’s 1997 law, or they have extended state child pornography laws to cover Internet images, as Kansas and Georgia both did as early as 1995. But as with federal legislation in this area, not all state laws have survived legal challenges. In 1997, a federal court overturned New York State’s anti-pornography law in ALA v. Pataki, ruling that its ban on sending “indecent” materials to minors over the Internet was an unconstitutional regulation of commerce. Georgia was also prohibited in 1997 from enforcing a statute that made it a criminal offense to communicate anonymously over the Internet in an attempt to protect children from sexual predators; the law was held unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in ACLU v. Miller.

In the twenty-first century, states are also adopting proactive law enforcement policies. Examples include Washington State, which in 2000 launched a combined federal-state program called the Computer Law Enforcement of Washington (CLEW) initiative. Under CLEW, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies share information, maintain a high-tech crime strike force, and publish tips online to help fight fraud and other crime. Several states, such as New Jersey, established special cybercrime units in order to investigate crimes from industrial espionage to drug trafficking. Because of the crossjurisdictional nature of much Internet crime, state attorneys general have also pursued innovative information-sharing programs. Legal observers expect to see further law enforcement cooperation among states.

Inside State Laws and Policing