back to article US 'swatting' Bill will jail crank callers for five years to life

A loophole in US law could make it harder for criminal hackers to call in false high-profile threats to police if an anti-swatting Bill introduced this week gains traction. Swatting is the name given to the act of calling in to police false reports of high-risk emergencies. Criminal hackers and gamers are notorious for …

  1. Smitty Werben Jueger Man Jenson
    WTF?

    Loophole?

    "A loophole in US law could make it harder for criminal hackers to call in false high-profile threats to police if an anti-swatting Bill introduced this week gains traction"

    How is it a loophole if it is the intent of the proposed law?

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      Re: Loophole?

      Yes, that earned a WTF from me too.

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Spot the difference

    Police agencies across Australia have told this reporter swatting is not an issue Down Under, however anecdotal rumour of it happening exist.

    Obvious reason. Everywhere except USA the police does not get to buy surplus military equipment and the SWAT squad (if any) is not the local police department's private army. It does not have armored personnel carriers, automatic weapons, autocannons and god knows what else. It is just a scruffy van +/- riot shield on the windscreen and a few cops authorised to carry weapons. There is no fun in coax calling this.

    1. jason 7

      Re: Spot the difference

      Plus they do not have 'Civil Forfeiture'. This is a loophole whereby the US police can just take your money, house, car etc. with just a mere hint of 'made up' suspicion with no charge and keep it.

      They can then spend the proceeds as they see fit.

      "Buying toys" one Police Chief stated on record.

      Legalised theft basically.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kEpZWGgJks&list=PLmKbqjSZR8TbfAMV9bLy4beDh4vrze5kc&index=37

    2. Just Enough

      Re: Spot the difference

      I was more puzzled as to why Australia was mentioned at all. What does Australia have to do with anything? Why Australia and not UK, German, Brazil, New Zealand, Iceland, Russia ...

  3. dan1980

    "Hoax callers face 20 years if serious bodily injury results and life behind bars if the swatting incident causes death."

    Okay, I am all for severe punishment for this kind of thing but what the fuck?

    If "serious bodily injury" or death results then that is clearly the fault of the police, first and foremost as the very nature of "swatting" means that the victims are innocent and would almost certainly be unarmed.

    Police must treat every call as serious but they must also be fully prepared for the possibility that the situation is not serious and capable of handling that without, you know, killing anyone. They must be prepared to stand-down and move quickly from viewing the person as a suspect or criminal to accepting that they are a victim - either of a deliberate, malicious attack, or simply of a misunderstanding or mistake.

    I am not suggesting that police killing an innocent person in this manner is overly likely but it is far from unimaginable. It's certainly happened that innocent people have been killed by police officers on the basis of 911 calls.

    These prank calls are thoroughly reprehensible in every way but I think this has helped highlight an issue with what appears to be an systemic inability of the police to handle situations non-violently, using far more force or far more 'militarised' tactics than are called for.

    I think back to an incident in Texas that I think is particularly relevant here, in which a group of officers were executing a pre-dawn 'no knock' warrant on a man who they had been informed was growing marijuana and had some guns in the home.

    The man, believing his home was being invaded and fearing, as was reported, for his pregnant wife, he opened fire from behind his closed bedroom door, killing an officer.

    They found, in the end that he had only a 'misdemeanor' quantity of marijuana and the (4) guns found were all legally-owned. Further, the information they were acting on was from an informant, rather than anything they had verified themselves.

    The request for a 'no knock' warrant was based on the officers wanting to surprise the suspect to prevent him having a chance to dispose of or conceal evidence. Of marijuana. And for that, an officer is dead.

    This shows two important points: first, that police officers do face very real risks when entering homes and, second, that at least some of that risk is directly the result of the tactics used.

    It's a mindset that seems to be at fault and it is shown by the fact that in the above case, a 'capital murder' charge, despite the admission that they did not have enough evidence to make the case. I.e. they could not prove that the officers announced their presence so there was no evidence at all that the suspect knew anything more than that his house was being forcibly entered while he slept.

    That they pursued that charge, even without the evidence to prove it shows the mindset pretty clearly because they think this was the right course of action and will defend that to the hilt, rather than accepting that it was a inappropriate tactic for the situation.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "systemic inability of the police to handle situations non-violently"

      If the call concerned spouse battery of drunken idiot, you would be right. However swatting is a call that specifically directs police to a hostage situation.

      The police are therefor going in under the presumption that lives are at risk, and one or more perps are armed (this is the US, remember ?) and ready to respond.

      It is normal for them to charge in, because that is supposed to give them the element of surprise. It is also, unfortunately, understandable that in such a tense moment, otherwise innocent acts from totally surprised innocent people can be wrongly interpreted as dangerous. If you're going in expecting bad guys and being told to respond with lethal force, it takes superhuman calm, Buddha levels of self-control and split-second observation abilities to not fire a shot if a threat you expect seems to crop up.

      I think 20 years to life is a perfectly reasonable outcome for some asshat who is sooo unhappy about losing that he unleashes lethal weaponry upon the family of his opponent. If someone dies because of this, they won't be coming back.

      1. dan1980

        Re: "systemic inability of the police to handle situations non-violently"

        @Pascal

        I do agree, but then I also look to a 'swatting' incident where the false report was someone pretending to be the victim announcing to police that he had killed his parents and would kill his sister if police came.

        The police first got the parents out.

        Think about that. They got the parents. Alive. At that point, one must get at list some inkling that perhaps the call was not legit because, you know, you have just verified that the people claimed to be shot were not and were utterly unharmed.

        The victim was still tackled and bailed up with guns pointed at him.

        I actually know two police officers - on a very close friend - and I do worry about them. The friend has been involved in drug busts with motorcycle gangs and Asian criminal groups, in domestic violence cases dealt with situations where there were credible threats of serious violence. I am not oblivious to the dangers the police face, nor am I unsympathetic.

        BUT, I believe that the difficulty and danger is part of the job and it is the responsibility of the police force to ensure that officers capable of meeting the requirements of the job - both in terms of their disposition and training.

        It is a tough job, but it is also a job with HUGE power attached to it and it is utterly imperative that those entrusted with that power are using it sensibly and always in service of the public.

        I accept and understand that their actions in trying to resolve reported hostage situations are indeed in service of the public but they must ALWAYS be prepared for the possibility that the person they are targeting is a victim.

      2. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: "systemic inability of the police to handle situations non-violently"

        "It is normal for them to charge in"

        Then they're clearly doing it wrong. "Some fuckwit said you were a terrorist so I shot you dead fully legally" doesn't even begin to be anywhere near in the same galaxy as an acceptable excuse.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Okay, I am all for severe punishment for this kind of thing but what the fuck?

      Jail is the wrong response, and costs a lot of money, without being a deterrent.

      Where a swatting call is traced, the police should turn up and SWAT that house. Intentionally break the doors down, throw tear gas, scare the shit out of the occupants and taser a few of them, seize telecoms and computing gear, search aggressively (purely to cause disruption), arrest and question everybody, then let 'em go with a police caution. I don't think you'd see many people thinking SWATing was fun when the message got round.

      And if the SWATter is a teenage kid living with their parents, that'd be just fine. Real justice would be dispensed after the cops had gone.

      1. sisk Silver badge

        And if the SWATter is a teenage kid living with their parents, that'd be just fine. Real justice would be dispensed after the cops had gone.

        You'd think so, wouldn't you? Sadly in the US we have a lot of parents who have no clue how to discipline their kids. That's one of the bigger and less talked about factors behind our ludicrous crime rate.

  4. P. Lee Silver badge

    Actual bodily harm and loss of life from a prank call?

    Maybe they shouldn't shoot first and ask questions later?

    What's the ratio of fake to real hostage threats? Are they not prepped to expect that this may not be real?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      So you would prefer that one guy leisurely stroll up to the door, ring the bell and wait to see if he gets a bullet to the face to be sure that there is a problem ?

      How would like to see that in your job description ?

      1. Graham Marsden
        Boffin

        @Pascal Monett

        How about, instead, they try something like phoning the address saying they're from the local Pizza Delivery store and can't find the address or they're from the Electricity Company and there have been reports of power outages or some other such excuse and *listening* to see if there's sounds of stress in the voice of the person who replies? Or maybe they can knock on the neighbours' doors and ask if they've heard anything? Or maybe they can get a drone camera next to an uncurtained window? Or a fibre-optic camera under a door? Or maybe they can put a microphone on the door or maybe...?

        Those are just a few ideas off the top of my head and I'm sure there are plenty of others which people could come up with to find out *WHAT* is going on in the house *BEFORE* storming in with guns blazing!

        Of course none of those suggestions let them play with their big-boys' toys and live out their Clint Eastwood or Bruce Willis fantasies...

        1. Bob Dole (tm)

          Re: @Pascal Monett

          >>How about, instead, they try something like phoning the address saying they're from the local Pizza Delivery store..

          First problem with that - I know a lot of people and NONE of them have home phones anymore. That's so last century.

          >> Or maybe they can knock on the neighbours' doors and ask if they've heard anything?

          Kinda removes the whole "element of surprise" thing that swat teams employ.

          >>Or maybe they can get a drone camera next to an uncurtained window?

          Do people really have uncurtained windows? How odd.

          >>Or maybe they can put a microphone on the door or maybe...?

          Again, high degree of being noticed.

          If it's a true hostage situation then you don't want the bad guys to see you coming. Instead you want to storm in, attempt to assess the situation in 0.1 seconds, shoot anyone that needs to be shot and generally scare the absolute crap out of them. If done correctly, it would take a few seconds from the time the doors are dropped until the bad guys even register what's happening. By then it's all over.

          The downside is that this can be heart attack level induced stress on an unsuspecting person. Further, someone might very well get trampled if they are in the wrong spot or even shot if they appear to be acting aggressively. Yes, it's incredibly dangerous but the research shows that this is by far the most effective means of ensuring that real hostages are saved.

          1. Graham Marsden
            Thumb Down

            @Bob Dole (tm) Re: @Pascal Monett

            Oh look, I come up with a few ideas off the top of my head and you shoot them down, so you're right and I'm wrong and it's *MUCH* better to go in all guns blazing...

            Of course that's the right action "IF it's a true hostage situation", but do you really think that passing a law like this is going to stop all the idiots from Swatting people???

            1. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

              @Graham Marsden

              do you really think that passing a law like this is going to stop all the idiots from Swatting people???

              All of them? No. It will stop SOME of them though.

              Send armed police into enough potential hostage situations and sooner or later someone innocent will be carrying what could be mistaken for a firearm pointed at an officer. What is it you think happens next?

              The police are not paid to get shot, and there is no moral or legal requirement for them to do so before firing in good faith - they have families they'd like to live to see too. How many police is it you think wake up WANTING to shoot someone? FFS.

              Morons playing Swat should expect lengthy jail time until such time as other morons stop doing it.

              1. Graham Marsden
                Holmes

                @LucreLout - Re: @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

                > It will stop SOME of them though.

                And [insert some other ridiculously draconian law here] will stop SOME people from doing [insert particular activity here], but history has shown time and again that's never a proper, nor adequate, solution.

                But it plays well in the media...

                1. LucreLout Silver badge

                  Re: @LucreLout - @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

                  And [insert some other ridiculously draconian law here] will stop SOME people from doing [insert particular activity here], but history has shown time and again that's never a proper, nor adequate, solution.

                  No, you're quite right, silly me. Of course sending heavily armed men into what they think is a conflict situation in someones home is all just a barrel of laughs isn't it? Right up until it isn't, of course.

                  I'm genuinely amazed at how consistently wrong you can be about almost everything. Forget this Matt chap you bang on about, I'm starting to wonder if you're not the troll.

                  1. Graham Marsden
                    Facepalm

                    Re: @LucreLout - @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

                    Disagreeing with LucreLout != Being wrong about almost everything.

                    Try looking up the history the of Bloody Code where, by the end of the 19th Century, over 200 offences in England could get you the Death Penalty.

                    That was based on the same, short-sighted, idea that you support that "making the punishment more severe will stop this happening!" and it must have worked because we still have all those penalties on the statute books since they were so effective...

                    Sorry, LL, but I have no interest in joining the "Hang them and flog them" Brigade.

                    1. LucreLout Silver badge

                      Re: @LucreLout - @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

                      @GM

                      That was based on the same, short-sighted, idea that you support that "making the punishment more severe will stop this happening!" and it must have worked because we still have all those penalties on the statute books since they were so effective...

                      Take someone hard of thinking and have them make a swatting call. How many of their friends do you think will line up to copy the genius when he's doing 20+ years? Exactly, none of them.

                      Take the same genius and give him the tea & biscuits you're proposing, and the number of his mates that copy him can be expected to be greater than zero. It's going to look like fun and lead to tit for tat reprisals.

                      The reason they're increasing the penalty is precisely because the soft touch approach hasn't worked. Repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results etc etc. You can complain about that all you want, but your approach has been shown not to work, so they're trying something else which might. Lets see what the stats say in a few years.

                      1. Graham Marsden
                        Boffin

                        Re: @LucreLout - @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

                        Oh dear, LL, I see little point in continuing to argue with your Straw Men, so I'll just leave you with the words of George Santayana:

                        "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

                        1. LucreLout Silver badge

                          Re: @LucreLout - @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

                          @GM

                          If you understood the message of your quote you'd not still be getting the same things wrong ad-finitum. Think before you post.

                          1. Graham Marsden

                            Re: @LucreLout - @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

                            Lol! I think another Irony Meter has just exploded!

              2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

                Re: @LucreLout

                "The police are not paid to get shot, and there is no moral or legal requirement for them to do so before firing in good faith": and there is the problem. There is indeed a moral requirement that agents of the State do not kill anyone who is not actively a threat to someone else. The police are (or should be) adequately trained to look and assess first before shooting. Every wrong death, wrong prosecution, wrong conviction is a moral failure of the State to protect the population. Any time a police officer fires a gun, they should be immediately suspended from duty and a criminal investigation commenced - just the same as would happen with anyone else who isn't in the police. "To Serve and Protect" doesn't mean "To Serve our own interest and Protect ourselves". The law should reflect this, but we are getting more and more militarised police - see the recent pictures of the Special Branch Robocop in the Press. They are far more frightening than any criminal/terrorist.

                1. LucreLout Silver badge

                  Re: @LucreLout

                  @Intractable Potsherd

                  There is indeed a moral requirement that agents of the State do not kill anyone who is not actively a threat to someone else.

                  At best this may be corrected as:

                  There is indeed a moral requirement that agents of the State do not kill anyone who THEY REASONABLY BELIEVE is not actively a threat to someone else.

                  That edit is critical to the whole situation. Nobody is advocating the state kicking down doors and whacking everyone involved, but sooner or later someone innocent always ends up shot. On balance that saves more lives than waiting to see if the guys inside with the guns are just having jolly japes or if they really do mean to kill the hostages, which is why the police operate in this way.

                  The police are (or should be) adequately trained to look and assess first before shooting.

                  And they are, but humans are not infallible and they don't become so because their paycheck says "Police" on it any more than they are with "NHS" written on it; and as we know, the NHS kills thousands of people every year due to errors.

                  Any time a police officer fires a gun, they should be immediately suspended from duty and a criminal investigation commenced - just the same as would happen with anyone else who isn't in the police.

                  That's a nice idea, but you'll find a few issues. Firstly it would require the arrest of the officer to convey the requisite powers and rights to both parties. You'll not find a very long queue for people wanting to be arrested for doing their job correctly. Perhaps we extend this idea to doctors and nurses where a patient dies int heir care? ultimately, the state doesn't have the resources, and those in applicable roles aren't going to enjoy arrest records when trying to use visa waiver programs or emigrating abroad.

                  They are far more frightening than any criminal/terrorist.

                  From that I can only conclude that you've never met a serving member of the force with a firearms cert, or been involved in a significant terrorist incident. Had you done both, you'd already know why you're wrong.

            2. gnasher729 Silver badge

              Re: @Bob Dole (tm) @Pascal Monett

              "Of course that's the right action "IF it's a true hostage situation", but do you really think that passing a law like this is going to stop all the idiots from Swatting people???"

              Passing a law won't stop idiots from swatting people.

              Seeing on TV that someone got five years jail for a swatting incident where nothing went badly wrong. Someone else getting ten years for swatting when an innocent victim got injured by police. And someone getting twenty years to live for swatting when an innocent victim died. That's going to stop many idiots over time.

              Because these idiots think it's a joke with no real life consequences. A long jail time tends to change that assumption.

              And last, why not? There is no reason why society should have to accept this kind of behaviour. If you find your wife having sex with someone else, and you kill the wife or her lover or both, that's something that society has to live with. People using emergency services for a bad joke, that's not something we have to live with. It's a direct attack against society, for no valid reason whatsoever, so society has the right to stomp this out.

        2. Captain DaFt

          Re: @Pascal Monett

          Or they could, Y'know, double check that the call actually came from the residence in question.

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: @Pascal Monett

            Or they could, Y'know, double check that the call actually came from the residence in question.

            Unless you want hostages to only be able to summon help from a landline, you're going to need to accept nearby cell towers too.

            1. Captain DaFt

              Re: @Pascal Monett

              "Unless you want hostages to only be able to summon help from a landline, you're going to need to accept nearby cell towers too."

              True, but it will eliminate bogus calls from another part of the city, country, or even, as in a couple of cases, another country altogether.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        So you would prefer that one guy leisurely stroll up to the door, ring the bell and wait to see if he gets a bullet to the face to be sure that there is a problem ?

        Pascal! Have you been asleep for a hundred years or something? The US police prefer to beat and shoot them when they're handcuffed or surrendered on the ground, or even better, disabled people in wheelchairs. Sometimes they make a mistake and shoot an unarmed white teenager, though.

        In the US, UK, France, or anywhere else, if the police can't address potentially violent scenarios calmly and with minimal risk, they shouldn't be in the police. Hell, the French police and security services just managed to arrest two live suspects who were part of the IS death cult, after a monster multi-thousand round battle which the suspects didn't intend to survive. All credit to the security services for that.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Ledswinger

          Ledswinger, I am sick of your comments supporting the criminals over those police and military who spend their time and lives trying to keep us safe. So far I have seen nothing but complaints, can you do their job better? Then please do so because armchair jockeys like you are so brave.

          This article is about a proposed law to make it less likely that the police are called out by pranksters and all you can do is whine and cry that the police are the enemy.

          Not all police or military people are bad but you have already damned them all collectively.

          It is plainly obvious from your previous comments that you support the views of those terrorists in France, Belgium, Mali, Indonesia and elsewhere.

          ANYONE who supports that sentiment needs to leave the western world and go somewhere with Shariah law. You deserve it.

          Is the fact that the female terrorist in Belgium was calling "Help me" to the police when she blew herself up not proof enough that those cops were risking their lives for the public good? They COULD have fallen for that ruse but did not. If they had, they would all be dead by now. There has been enough murder by these Islamic terrorists worldwide already.

          Now why do you think they are armored up and "militarized"? That would be a damn good reason wouldn't it? You want to see the cops disarmed, toothless and unprotected, I do not!

          Put your real name out there so police and military everywhere know who NOT to help!

          1. Graham Marsden
            Facepalm

            Re: @Ledswinger

            > Put your real name out there so police and military everywhere know who NOT to help!

            Says the Anonymous Coward...

  5. Curtis

    The Bill was introduced by Republicans Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and could "see perpetrators fined and jailed for up five years if no injury results."

    Umm, are the editors even proof reading this stuff?

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      There is a "corrections" email address below every single article. Just use it.

      1. LHGFLICOD

        Where is the fun in that? Much better to carp on in the comments and display ones grammatical abilities* and editorial prowess.

        *I have none as I was educated in the English Comprehensive system where grammar was not taught.

        1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
          Headmaster

          It's not just the grammar, it's the incorrect use of Republican in the context of the story as well as the messy mixing of styles when listing party affiliations and constituencies. I did, however, send a note requesting a correction and acknowledgement of my pedantry.

        2. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Pint

          > Where is the fun in that?

          Point taken. For the record: I have sent corrections and can tell you that the Reg appreciates them. Beer, because [no reason given].

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Militarized police

    OR you could fix the root of the problem and not have a militarized police force, and general culture of guns and violence.

    Ah, but that would require fixing massive economic inequality. Ok carry on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Militarized police

      Another one who believes that "Black lies Matter". I wish that you needed the help of the police some day.

  7. Dr. Ellen

    Details

    On one hand, this bill will not make it one iota harder to SWAT somebody. On the other hand, it'll raise the consequences of so doing tremendously. On the gripping hand, this is something done by arseholes, who don't think before doing it. But at least they won't be allowed a phone in jail to do it again.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It doesn't matter

    The U.S. does not enforce most of it's laws so adding more won't deter the crims one bit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It doesn't matter

      Correction, the OBAMA administration only enforces laws that it supports, not the ones already on the books.

      The OBAMA administration is also ultimately responsible for the carnage in Syria and all their refugees because of his chicken shit policies and his piss poor Department of State, micromanagement of the military, totally BS rules of engagement etc etc etc.

      His list of failures is endless, as is Kerry and Hillary's.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: It doesn't matter

        Obvious troll is obvious.

        And a twat.

  9. sisk Silver badge

    Erm....calling in fake emergencies is already illegal. Surely you mean to say this bill will make it a federal felony instead of a state misdemeanor.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Exactly. In the States, we already have "filing a false police complaint" as a crime. This is just eyewash and piggyback and a dose of "feelgood" on top of what is existing. The only difference is that this one is Federal while the false police report is usually a State or Local law.

      Given that these calls are called into a 911 call center, the usual procedure is to initiate a trace since if someone's having a heart attack, they may hit the floor before giving their address.

  10. Mike 16 Silver badge

    Two birds

    So, if two people piss me off, I can use one of the various number-spoofing services to call in a strike on one of them "from" the other. Good to know. (Or just sit outside person 2's house using their pathetic WiFi password to forge a VOIP call...

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Two birds

      The penalty is changing, not the burden of proof or the investigation required before charging someone.

      There's nothing to stop you doing as you suggest already, but the consequences for you in doing so will be a lot more severe IF you get caught. It's quite likely "Person 2" is going to protest their innocence and some sort of investigation will follow.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Two birds

        "some sort of investigation will follow."

        Is that like the "investigation" that follows every single contested case of "your IP downloaded copyrighted material", only less imaginary...?

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Two birds

      Go ahead. You have then committed two crimes: Swatting the first person, and what is in the UK called "perverting the course of justice" in the second case.

      Swatting is a serious crime. There will be a serious inquiry. If they find the person whose official phone number was used to make the call, they will not just throw him or her into jail, but start to investigate. What if the primary victim tells the police "I'd never have thought that X would do that. On the other hand Y hates both of us, so please check what Y was up to". What if the person supposedly making the call has an alibi. What if the phone call doesn't appear on the victim's phone bill.

      If there is some doubt, the police will treat this as a serious crime and start to _really_ investigate. And then I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. One thing that any police form in the world absolutely hates is being taking for a mug in this way, and they will do what they can to get you.

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