It began with a 12-year-old who thought it would be funny to turn the concept of being "Punk’d” back onto Ashton Kutcher, but now it’s evolved into something much more serious.
In the past couple of the weeks, the celebrity swatting trend has grown seemingly out of control, and now the conversation is turning to what is being done to stop the problem. In the past week alone, six new cases have taken place, starting with Diddy on Wednesday, April 3, followed by Rihanna on Thursday, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez on Friday, Russell Brand on Monday, and Ryan Seacrest on Wednesday. Seacrest was swatted on the same day as his radio interview with Brand, which covered the Monday incident.
While a 12-year-old boy was arrested in December in conjunction with the Kutcher case and sentenced to two years in juvenile detention (he was also linked to a second swatting case last fall involving Justin Bieber, but was never charged for it), the number of incidents continued to mount. Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise, Chris Brown, Simon Cowell, Clint Eastwood, and the Kardashians are just a few of the other targets during the first few months of 2013.
Last week, the group responsible for "doxxing" several celebrities (read: publicly posting hacked documents, such as credit reports, online) claimed responsibility for having swatted Diddy and Paris Hilton. On their website, they're now trying to take responsibility for swatting Timberlake and Seacrest. Back in January, a Beverly Hills Police Lieutenant told omg! that he believed we were looking at a case of copycat crimes, but now there’s no telling how many different groups may be responsible for some or all of the swatting incidents.
Los Angeles County Sherriff Lee Baca spoke with the New York Times about just how bad things have gotten. "It’s very bad," he explained. "People who are celebrities don’t deserve to be targets of emergency police response on hoaxes. It’s unnerving to them. They don’t know why the police are there, and yet once the police are there they are required to check out whether or not something is going wrong.”
The Times also spoke with California State Senator Ted Lieu, whose district covers the area where most of the incidents have taken place. He sponsored new legislation that recently passed in the Senate (at the request of the Sherriff's Department), to make it easier to convict people of filing false crime reports, and to hold guilty parties responsible.
"It’s a drain on law enforcement," Lieu explained. His legislation is expected to also make parents liable for costs their children may cause from such infractions.
One of the most complicated issues in the equation seems to be whether or not law enforcement officials are able to keep up with the pranksters on a technological level. Most of these 911 calls are sent via computers with hidden IP addresses. But the tech-savvy culprits seem to be staying two steps ahead of their pursuant captors, and, while the FBI certainly has the ability to trace more serious calls, it’s unclear if local police have similar resources.
"A lot of people think that if they’re on a confidential server, it won’t give away their address," Cmdr. Andrew Smith told the Times. "But if you put a search warrant in front of an Internet company, they can give you pretty much whatever information the judge tells them to."
Still, so far, the cuprits have proved themselves elusive. If it’s true that the doxxers are behind some of these swatting calls, then law enforcement may be facing some of the best hackers in the world. To date, they still haven’t been able to stop that group from posting the social security numbers and private information of what now amounts to more than 50 celebrities and American political leaders on their foreign-based website.
So, when will progress be made leading to some more arrests? It's unclear for now. In the meantime, expect to hear about more swatting cases in the near future.
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