Centre County DA Pledges Aggressive Prosecution of ‘Zoom Bombing’ Cases
Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said on Tuesday that his office “will be aggressively prosecuting” cases of “Zoom bombing,” a form of online harassment that has grown amid the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
With the pandemic preventing in-person gatherings, businesses, schools and other groups have turned to online video conferencing services such as Zoom to conduct classes and meetings. With that has come increased instances of “Zoom bombing,” in which uninvited individuals gain access to a video call with the intention of harassing and disrupting, often in crude and offensive ways.
“These times are challenging enough with the restrictions we have to work under, without having to deal with someone disrupting a 400 person classroom or a community meeting,” Cantorna said. “We are all in this together and we don’t need this kind of conduct. It is not funny; it is criminal.”
Cantorna said all of the cases in Centre County currently under investigation involve Penn State virtual meetings or classes, though he believes additional unreported incidents have likely happened to others.
University spokesperson Lisa Powers said that since March 31, Penn State police have received 26 reports at University Park and six more at Commonwealth Campuses of cases the occurred during classes and meetings. Each case is currently under investigation and the university will work closely with Cantorna’s office.
“The content of these incidents is meant to shock and harass, in some cases using screen sharing to show offensive or malicious content, or spouting hateful or threatening language,” Powers said.
A person who engages in such conduct can be charged for each offense with disruption of service and unlawful use of a computer, both third-degree felonies under Pennsylvania law and punishable by up to seven in prison and a $15,000 fine for each conviction, Cantorna said.
“Zoom bombers” could also face charges of harassment and disorderly conduct.
“There are a significant number of cases under investigation by law enforcement and when the individuals are identified, they will be charged with felonies for each and every time they disrupted a meeting,” Cantorna said.
Penn State has offered instructors information on how to protect the privacy of virtual classes and meetings as well as guidance for handling any disruptions that do occur.
“I applaud the district attorney and his willingness to be proactive in addressing this issue,” Penn State Police Chief Joseph Milek said. “We are grateful for his support and assistance in keeping our students, employees and the larger community safe. The majority of these incidents are vile, reprehensible and dehumanizing.”
Anyone who experiences “Zoom bombing” should contact their local law enforcement agency, Cantorna said.
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Garcia is the first known Penn State student to die after contracting the virus.
“We will no longer sit back and watch as the university continues to disrespect and misuse its BIPOC students.”
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