You might have heard of “swatting,” the practice of calling in false reports to law enforcement agencies in hopes of sending armed police to a person’s home. It’s become a problem in gaming circles especially, because it’s easy to make an anonymous call about a shooter, a hostage situation or a bomb threat at the house of someone on the Internet who you don’t like, effectively sending a SWAT team to bust down their door. It’s particular prevalent in the livestreaming community, where swatters glean extra pleasure from watching the results of their crimes live on sites like Twitch.
Of course, the practice is more than a prank—it’s incredibly dangerous, and could easily result in an accidental death as police charge into a building expecting the worst and running into confused, innocent people inside. So a pair of lawmakers are introducing a new bill to put some serious punishments on swatters that could go as high as life in prison in worst-case scenarios.
As Naked Security reports, Democratic Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusettes and Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania have introduced the “Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015.” The bill would close a loophole that makes it illegal to falsely report things like bomb threats, but not other emergency situations.
The bill carries some tough penalties, which is what might make it effective in actually curbing swatting. Just calling in a hoax emergency report, even if police don’t respond to it, can carry a sentence of up to a year in prison. If there is a police response, the max sentence goes up to five years. If someone is seriously hurt as a result of the false call, the sentence cap jumps to 20 years; and if the swatting results in someone being killed, the swatter can get as much as life in prison.
Having some real consequences for swatters is a very good thing, considering the FBI said in 2013 it had dealt with hundreds of hoax calls. You can read the full text of the bill here, and the press release from Clark’s office here.