Swatting

disconnected by Joe Morse

Swatting is the act of deceiving an emergency service into dispatching a police response based on the false report of an ongoing critical incident. The term derives from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), a heavily armored police unit. Swatting has been associated with online harassment campaigns, and episodes range from the deployment of bomb squads and evacuations of schools and businesses, to a single fabricated police report meant to discredit an individual as a prank or personal vendetta.

The action of swatting – linked to the action of ‘doxxing’ (obtaining the address and details of an individual) – has been described as terrorism due to its potential to cause disruption, waste the time of emergency services, divert attention from real emergencies and possibly cause injuries and psychological harm to persons targeted. The act of making false reports to emergency services is punishable by prison sentences in the US and is a crime in many other countries.

Swatting has its origins in prank calls to emergency services. Increasing sophistication of the techniques employed and the objectives, notably attempts to direct response units of particular types, and in particular attempts to cause SWAT teams to be dispatched to particular locations, spawned the term ‘swatting.’ The term was used by the FBI as far back as 2008.

‘Phreaking’ is a slang term coined to describe the activity of a culture of people who study, experiment with, or explore, telecommunication systems, such as equipment and systems connected to public telephone networks. Their tools and methods include caller ID spoofing (falsifying the location of a call), social engineering (using false identities to gain sensitive information), and TTY (telecommunications device for the deaf). 911 systems (including telephony and human operators) have been tricked by calls placed from cities hundreds of miles away or even from other countries. The caller typically places a 911 call using a spoofed phone number with the goal of tricking emergency authorities into responding to an address with a SWAT team to an emergency that doesn’t exist.

In 2009, phreaker Matthew Weigman pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy including ‘involvement in a swatting conspiracy’ and attempting to retaliate against a witness. He was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. In 2013, a number of celebrities became the victims of swatting pranks, including Sean Combs. In the past, there have been swatting incidents at the homes of Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, Chris Brown, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, Jason Derulo, Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber, and Clint Eastwood.

In 2014, YouTube user Jordan Mathewson, known online as Kootra, live streamed a game of ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’ on Twitch, a game streaming service. A viewer called 911 claiming that there was a shooting in the building with hostages. A SWAT team raided the office out of which Mathewson’s gaming company, The Creatures LLC, was operating. Mathewson was thrown to the ground and searched as officers cleared the room. The events were broadcast live on the internet, until law enforcement set the camera lens-down on Mathewson’s desk. Videos of the swatting went viral, gaining over four million views on YouTube and being reported on news programs all over the world.

In 2015, US Senator Katherine Clark sponsored a bill called the ‘Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015,’ aimed at increasing the penalties for Swatting, as well as making Swatting a Federal Crime. Several months later, Clark was Swatted by an anonymous caller who claimed there was an active shooter in her home. Melrose Police, not a SWAT team, responded to the call, and left after determining it was a hoax.

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