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Just six days after cyber threats shut down the Washington school district, the county’s cybercrime investigator, Deputy Chad Ellis, visited with freshmen and middle school students of Highland to educate them on the growing problem of cybercrime.
Ellis said crimes like that have become more and more prevalent as the role of various social medias have kept expanding. To illustrate his point, Ellis asked those gathered to raise their hands if they had a Facebook profile, despite Facebook requiring people to be at least 13 to create a profile, and a smartphone. The overwhelming majority of students raised their hands.
As a result, Ellis says when he investigates a cybercrime, he starts with warrants for cellphones, giving him access to anything that is on the phone.
According to Ellis, being able to bully from behind a keyboard has resulted in an increase in depression and anxiety in teens. The difficulty comes in the fact that it is so hard to completely back out of social media because of how much information is disseminated online.
Ellis charged the students in attendance to help combat cyberbullying to help it by nipping it in the bud when they see it. He also said that kids needed to be careful when deciding when to pass things around social media. The danger is in the snowball effect of people just sharing things because they are getting passed around. He urged them to make the extra effort to figure out the truth of a matter before sending things around.
Though the department tries to handle occurrences of cyberbullying by working with families and school districts, making the leap to charging people with harassment in instances of cyberbullying is a growing part of the process, given the extent of the problem.
“It’s definitely what we have to start looking at, because it’s not slowing down,” he said.
Cyberbullying isn’t the only crime that Ellis is concerned with when it comes to the internet.
With geotagging, the ability of your phone to log where you are when making posts, Ellis said it’s become easier for strangers to solicit meetings by making it sound like they know a lot about people just from research over the internet.
“These are the kind of cases I would rather talk to you guys about and prevent. If I can never work that kind of case in my career, I’d be happy,” Ellis said.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of cybercrimes is the dissemination of inappropriate material via pictures, video or other media. This is the spot where Ellis said the criminal code has fallen the furthest behind.
Iowa law is designed to protect minors, so that means with messages being sent between minors, kids can get themselves in a world of hurt. Both the person who distributes inappropriate material and who solicits or spreads around the material could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. If the material is in the form of a video, the charge is a class D felony, punishable by five years in jail.
Being charged with such a crime can also result in having to register as a sex offender for 10 years.