This brief provides information about the growing problem of hate crimes on the Internet and guidelines in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.
Hate crime is defined by the Federal Government as “a crime in which the defendant selects a victim, or in the case of property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” Because of their special impact, hate crimes demand priority attention. Bias crimes intimidate a victim and the victim’s community. The use of the Internet has become an avenue in spreading hate. It has allowed extremists expanded access to a potential audience of millions that includes impressionable youth. When speech contains a direct, credible threat against an identifiable individual, organization, or institution, it crosses the line to criminal conduct. However, hate crimes perpetrated over the Internet pose special challenges for investigators and prosecutors. Law enforcement authorities need to be equipped to address these challenges in order to hold perpetrators of Internet hate crimes accountable. This technical assistance report jointly funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the U.S. Department of Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program provides comprehensive information on the growing problem of hate crimes on the Internet by defining hate crimes, summarizing the principal Federal and State hate crime laws, describing a number of reported cases, and examining key legal elements involved in the investigation of hate crimes on the Internet. In addition, the report focuses on three issues that can arise in hate crime investigations: (1) first amendment protections for hate Web sites; (2) the jurisdictional aspects of prosecution of threats on the Internet; and (3) potential problems encountered in the collection and preservation of electronic evidence. Appendix (Bias Crime Indicators), resources, and references