Topic:
DISCRIMINATION; TELEPHONE;
Location:
UTILITIES - TELEPHONE;
Scope:
Court Cases; Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


10/15/2003 98-R-0919

FROM: Christopher Reinhart, Research Attorney

RE: Telephone Harassment Laws and Disclosure of the Harasser You asked about the law on harassment by telephone and laws regarding the disclosure of the harasser's name by the telephone company.

SUMMARY

State and federal law both have criminal penalties for individuals making harassing telephone calls. Southern New England Telephone (SNET) procedure prevents the disclosure of the name of an alleged harasser. SNET will disclose the name to the police if a complaint is made and it is likely that the name would be revealed to the alleged victim as part of an investigation. The documents related to the investigation will remain protected from disclosure to the general public under the Freedom of Information Act until an arrest is made. Several other services offered by SNET can be useful in dealing with unwanted telephone calls.

CONNECTICUT LAW ON HARASSMENT

Telephone harassment is included in the crimes of harassment in the first degree and harassment in the second degree under Connecticut law. Telephone calls made with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm when they are likely to cause annoyance or alarm fall under harassment in the second degree (CGS 53a-183). It is unimportant whether a conversation ensues. The statute also addresses indecent or obscene telephone calls. These crimes are class C misdemeanors punishable by up to three months in prison, a fine of up to $500, or both. Harassment in the first degree provides harsher punishment for individuals with previous felony convictions (certain convictions are excluded) who make phone calls that threaten to kill or physically injure the person being called or another person. The calls must be made in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm and with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, or terrorize. This crime is a class D felony, punishable by one to five years in prison, a fine of up to $500, or both (CGS 53a-182b). The court may also order a psychiatric evaluation of someone convicted under either statute.

FEDERAL LAW ON HARASSMENT

Federal law addresses harassing interstate and foreign communications (47 USC 223). It is a crime under this statute for someone to:

1. make a call with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass a person without disclosing his identity, whether or not conversation ensues;

2. make or cause the telephone of another to ring repeatedly or continuously, with the intent to harass; or

3. make repeated telephone calls during which conversation ensues, solely to harass the person.

These crimes are punishable by a fine, imprisonment of up to two years, or both. The statute also includes provisions on obscene and indecent communications.

SNET PROCEDURE AND SERVICES

SNET has a procedure to respond to harassing phone calls. A customer can have harassing calls traced back to SNET by dialing *57 after the call. This will flag the call and create a record at the company. The customer can request that SNET make a deterrence call to the alleged harasser after three calls have been flagged. The name of the alleged harasser will not be released. Once a complaint is made to the police, SNET will release the name to a law enforcement agency for investigation. According to SNET, this type of procedure is a common industry practice that reflects general privacy concerns and, in general, the caller controls the access to his information. Also, the person registered to a phone number is not necessarily the person who is making calls from that phone and this policy can protect SNET from liability for releasing information improperly.

Several other services can also be useful when dealing with unwanted phone calls. Caller ID allows customers to find out the number, and in some places the name registered to that number, on an incoming call unless a caller chooses to block this information. If a name it not given, it would be possible to use a reverse directory (one organized by phone number rather than name) to discover the name registered for that number. SNET also offers call rejection as part of Caller ID which will prevent a call from coming in if the caller has blocked out his phone number. Call blocking is another service which allows a customer to reject incoming calls from specific numbers or from the last caller, even if that number is not known. These services are established by tariff (part II, 33, sheet 4, item f) filed with the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC). Tariffs are generally used to set the rates and services offered by the company and are similar to regulations.

DISCLOSURE BY POLICE

There is no statute addressing the disclosure of a name by the police to an alleged victim. Once a complaint is filed with the police, it is likely that the alleged victim would be contacted as part of the investigation. The name provided by the telephone company would probably be disclosed to a victim because it would assist in the investigation. Under some circumstances, the police might want to withhold the name. This might occur if the police suspect there could be retaliation by the victim.

Disclosure to the public of information in the investigation is protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) until an arrest is made. Certain police investigatory information is exempt from FOI as a matter of public policy. CGS 1-19 excludes records of law enforcement agencies not otherwise available to the public which are compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of a crime if they fall into several categories. Information about an alleged harasser would fall under the category of information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action which does not have to be released if it would be prejudicial to that action. It could also fall under the exception for uncorroborated allegations. Law enforcement documents containing allegations of criminal activity by an individual are subject to destruction (under CGS 1-20c unless otherwise provided by law or statute) unless corroboration is found within a fifteen month period. The FOI statute seeks to protect individuals who are the subject of uncorroborated allegations and these records are not to be disclosed during the period in which corroboration is sought (Bona v. Freedom of Information Commission, 44 Conn. App. 622, 633 (1997)).

Records of an arrest (except those of a juvenile) are public records from the time of the arrest and are subject to disclosure under FOI (CGS 1-20b). The statute defines the “record of the arrest” as (1) the name and address of the person arrested, the date, time and place of the arrest and the offense involved and (2) at least one of the following, as designated by the law enforcement agency: the arrest report, incident report, news release, or other similar report of the arrest. The same exclusions from CGS 1-19 apply and may prevent the disclosure of data or information in the documents listed in (2) but they do not apply to the basic arrest information in (1) such as the accused person's name.

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