TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A new Florida bill waiting for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature would change state statutes to redefine and add penalties for several different dangers in the online world.
Cyberstalking, making threats and online harassment are now all on the table for additional legal consequences for Florida’s netizens, including up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Under HB 921, Florida’s statutes are amended to add digital communication methods to the state’s harassment and threat definitions. The additional language includes an update to what is defined as cyberstalking.
Currently, Florida Statute §784.048 (1)(d) says: “Cyberstalk means to engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.”
Now, “directly or indirectly” communicating through digital means that are then directed at “or pertaining to” a specific person, and used to attempt gaining access to someone’s online accounts or home internet-connected systems would also qualify as cyberstalking.
Using those digital methods to cause “substantial emotional distress” and “serving no legitimate purpose” can get you in trouble with the law, should DeSantis sign the bill.
Additionally, threatening bodily harm, such as threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism online would also lead to additional punishments under the law. The bill also expands what is considered as an electronic record.
Going forward, electronic record would mean anything “created modified, archived, received, or distributed electronically which contains any combination of text, graphics, video, audio, or pictorial represented in digital form” as long as it isn’t shared through a telephone call.
The bill also makes it illegal for anyone to “send, post, or transmit, or procure the sending, posting, or transmission of” any record, electronic or otherwise, that could be viewed by someone else when the record makes a threat to kill or harm someone, or conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism.
Someone who violates the updated statutes would be committing a second degree felony. State law puts second degree felony punishments up to 15 years in prison, and the potential for up to $10,000 in fines for those violations.