The yearlong COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on everyone. But the stress and isolation has been particularly grueling for people who struggle with addiction and mental health.
Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and others can be a lifeline, but as meetings have moved online to comply with public-health directives, protecting participants’ confidentiality has proved more difficult than simply shutting a meeting-room door.
A new King County ordinance will help hold Zoom bombers and other gate crashers accountable by making it illegal to hack into virtual addiction-recovery and mental-health meetings. Violators can be sued in civil court. It was unanimously approved by the Metropolitan King County Council this week. Other jurisdictions should follow the county’s lead.
The ordinance is not a cure-all. Support groups and therapeutic communities still should take steps to protect participants’ privacy by using passwords, waiting rooms and other tools. But explicitly safeguarding these virtual therapeutic spaces gives people the power to seek redress for violations of their rightful expectations of privacy. It was proposed by Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn, who said he’s heard horror stories of co-workers and ex-spouses snooping on virtual support group meetings, and of others just stirring up trouble.
Some, but not all, of these infringements may violate existing laws, such as the state prohibition against recording people without their permission. This ordinance draws a thick line, making it illegal to obtain information from such meetings without participants’ permission regardless of whether that information is recorded. It also makes it illegal to hack into such meetings just to be disruptive.
Who knows what drives a person to hijack virtual meetings with hateful messages, pornographic images and other garbage? This ordinance may not fix that defect in human nature, but consequences for these repugnant actions can only help.