ACLU-PA Position: Opposes
SB 703 (PN 787) would expand the definition of harassment to include the repeated use of social media or the internet. SB 703 also expands the list of crimes considered “crimes of violence” and would increase a first offense to a felony of a third degree if the victim was under 16 and the perpetrator was over 18 and was at least 4 years older than the victim.
SB 703 is duplicative. Cyberstalking is already a crime of harassment under the current law — there is no need to add additional language covering communication via the internet or social media.
And SB 703 proposes two radical changes to how stalking is currently defined under Pennsylvania law. First, the bill proposes to eliminate the requirement that the alleged target of the harassment has any knowledge of the conduct. But stalking, by its very definition, is supposed to make someone else scared. If that person has no knowledge of the behavior, how can this place them in reasonable fear? Second, SB 703 shifts the burden of proof required to prove stalking. Currently, a defendant charged with stalking must have the intent to place another person in fear. But under SB 703, all that is required for a conviction is that the recipient experiences fear or substantial emotional distress, regardless of the defendant's intent. This shifts the burden of proof from the defendant's intent to the recipient's experience. Furthermore, because SB 703 would no longer limit the definition of stalking to require bad intent, someone could unintentionally be guilty of stalking without ever having been told that their behavior was unwanted.
Redefining and criminalizing this kind of behavior as stalking is dangerously broad and excessively punitive. We have more than enough offenses under current statute to punish cyberstalking.