Feb 15, 2024 - News

Swatting bill could crack down on fake 911 calls

Illustration of phone with siren emoji.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The Georgia General Assembly is considering a bill to enhance penalties for false 911 calls known as "swatting."

Why it matters: Swatting calls — referred to as such because they often result in SWAT teams being dispatched to address alleged violent situations — have risen nationwide, targeting lawmakers, schools and hospitals, Axios's Ivana Saric reports.

  • In Georgia, a bipartisan roster of at least eight officials — including two Congress members and Lt. Governor Burt Jones — has been targeted in separate swatting incidents.

Zoom in: Republican State Sen. Clint Dixon of Gwinnett County introduced a bill last month that would punish swatters with one to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

  • The first offense would have these felony penalties if the swatting causes bodily injuries or death. Otherwise, the first offense is a misdemeanor.
  • A second conviction for swatting would result in a five to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
  • Repeat offenders of swatting up to 15 years behind bars, and at least $25,000 in fines.
  • The third conviction results in 10 to 15 years behind bars, and at least $25,000 in fines.

What they're saying: "My family and I got swatted twice — first time was on Christmas Day, and then the day after," Dixon said during Monday's state Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • "Had I not known the officers or had they not known me and I had not met them timely at the front door and they came in using force, you can imagine that can turn very dangerous or deadly quickly," he said.

How it works: Swatting involves faking an emergency to elicit the dispatch of armed police officers, or SWAT teams, to a particular address.

  • When a swatting call is placed, it indicates the culprit has a victim's specific physical address, which can be perceived as a threat in itself.
  • The tactic evolved from certain gaming circles in the early 2000s but has become a fairly common form of criminal harassment.
  • New techniques like AI-synthesized voices, caller ID spoofing, and IP masking have made swatting calls more efficient and even more of a headache for law enforcement.

State of play: The Georgia bill unanimously passed the Senate committee.

  • It was also amended to include places of worship, such as churches and synagogues, in the list of dwellings where this law would apply.
  • It will now move to the Rules Committee, which is slated to meet Thursday and Friday, for lawmakers to decide.

Zoom out: Congress is offering new guidance to its members on how to address swatting due to the surge of this trend against high-profile people.

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