Legislation Cracks Down on Cyberstalking, Open Container Law

The final months of 2000 brought several new pieces of legislation in the state of North Carolina that may affect students.

Starting December 1, 2000, any threats communicated via e-mail will be classified as a class 2 misdemeanor. These forms of communication, termed “cyberstalking,” include the use of e-mail to threaten to inflict harm on a person, his/her spouse, sibling, dependent, child, or property, or to extort money or other valuables.

Other forms of cyberstalking include repeated transmission of e-mail to a person in order to abuse, annoy, threaten, harass, or embarrass him or her, or making a false statement to a person via e-mail concerning death, injury, illness, disfigurement, or criminal conduct of that person or any member of the person’s family with the intent to embarrass or harass that person.

The cyberstalking statute also includes a definition of e-mail as well as a provision that an e-mail offense is considered to have been committed when the e-mail was originally sent, received or viewed in the state of North Carolina. The statute does not include as a misdemeanor those acts that are peaceful and nonviolent methods of expression of political views or other constitutionally protected acts of free speech.

The legislature also passed a revision of an existing general statute prohibiting certain acts that involve damage to or unauthorized accessing of computers. The revision expands the statute to include computer programs, systems, and networks, and is effective for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2000.

A change in North Carolina’s open container law was caused by a federal law which mandates that states will not receive certain highway construction funds unless they make laws that prohibit open containers and consumption of alcohol in vehicles on highways.

Under the new statute, no one may possess an open container of alcohol or consume alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle while the vehicle is on a highway or highway right-of-way. This statute does not prohibit open containers in vehicles when they are in areas such as parking lots, and only the person who is consuming alcohol in the vehicle while the vehicle is on a highway will be charged with an infraction; the driver will not necessarily be responsible. The statute which prohibits open containers in a vehicle when there is any alcohol in the driver’s system still applies.

The statute went into effect on September 1, 2000, and will expire on September 30, 2002, because the legislature has suggested that the North Carolina Attorney General bring litigation against the federal government to challenge the motion that highway funding be restricted in such a way.