When Covid-19 hit in early 2020, video conferencing apps like Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype quickly became crucial cogs that allowed society to continue functioning. The downside? Due to the high traffic and relative anonymity of these websites, they have become an appealing place for pranking, threats, and harassment. Despite participant logs and IP addresses, the perpetrators are not always easy to trace.
Just ask the South Brunswick Police Department, who searched for 18 months before finally apprehending a suspect for a cyber terrorism crime that allegedly occurred on a Zoom call.
A Zoom Gone Wrong
When a South Brunswick High School student tragically died in January 2021, the pandemic made it impossible to hold a proper memorial service.
Enter Zoom. The service was hosted virtually, allowing the student's friends and classmates to grieve alongside each other. It was all disrupted, however, when an unknown person entered the call — and threatened to “blow up the funeral home and make the casket turn to ashes.”
It is unknown whether the alleged threat was a joke or if the accused intended to follow through. It doesn't really matter. In the eyes of the law, the damage had been done.
Charges and Consequences for Zoom Threats
Most offenses committed over a video conference call are considered cybercrimes. Specifically, they fall under regulations prohibiting cyberbullying and cyber harassment. This is considered any time a person is online:
- Threatens physical violence or harm to another person
- Sends comments or posts to a person with the intent to emotionally harm or incite fear
- Threatens any crime against a person or property
You can also be charged with any crimes based on the content of your threats. For example, not only was the suspect in the South Brunswick case facing fourth-degree cyber harassment, but he was also facing charges of second-degree terroristic threats (because the threat was to commit an act of terrorism) and third-degree false public alarm (because the threat could reasonably be assumed to cause mass panic). He is also facing a sentencing enhancement because the alleged threats took place during the Covid-19 national state of emergency.
Potential penalties for cybercrimes vary by degree.
- Fourth-degree — Up to 18 months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine
- Third-degree — 3-5 years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine
- Second-degree — 5-10 years in prison and up to a $150,000 fine
- First-degree — 10-20 years in prison and up to a $200,000 fine
Remember, the cyberbullying or cyber harassment charge is often just the baseline. More charges can be added based on the nature of the harassment. Along with threats of terror, distributing lewd pictures is an action that frequently results in steep additional charges. It doesn't take much for a seemingly innocuous prank or an unsubstantiated threat to spiral into a very serious crime.
Contact the Lento Law Firm
Joseph D. Lento is an experienced New Jersey defense attorney. If you or your child is facing charges for a Zoom harassment incident, contact the Lento Law Firm online or by calling 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.
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