Computer hackers and unauthorized informants could face up to 10 years in prison under a proposed state law designed to protect South Carolina military installations from WikiLeaks-type scandals.

Charleston Republican Rep. Chip Limehouse announced on Monday that his bill, which will be considered when the legislature reconvenes next month, aims to strengthen the state's laws against computer crimes. The bill also seeks to complement federal laws by imposing additional penalties if classified or confidential information from Shaw Air Force Base, the Marine Corps' Parris Island, or other South Carolina military sites is disclosed.

"It will essentially give South Carolina the means to pursue computer criminals," Limehouse said. "Our laws need to keep pace with the evolving digital landscape."

Limehouse's bill builds on existing legislation that makes online fraud a felony, punishable by up to a $50,000 fine and five years in prison. Unauthorized public release of protected information, whether online or through other means, would incur a $100,000 fine under the proposed law.

The WikiLeaks case, involving the online publication of 250,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables and military intelligence reports, has been cited by U.S. officials as a threat to diplomacy, international relations, and lives. Some argue that prosecuting the WikiLeaks case could impact the First Amendment. However, Limehouse stressed that his law targets harmful speech, not free speech.

"There are limits in a free society on what you can say or do," Limehouse explained. "You cannot harm people and claim it's part of your freedom of speech. That's not how it works."

Currently, South Carolina prosecutors have tools to address cybercrimes such as hacking into personal bank accounts, but these laws are not adequate for handling WikiLeaks-type situations, Limehouse said.

All states have at least one form of "cyberstalking," "cyberharassment," or "cyberbullying" laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. South Carolina has specific protections, including the "Safe School Climate Act," which prohibits harassment, intimidation, or bullying through electronic communication, written, verbal, or physical threats or actions.

Additionally, a panel of state lawmakers has introduced legislation to criminalize "sexting." This bill would make the exchange of sexually explicit photos between children ages 12 to 17, including via text message with photo attachments, a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine. Charged children would also be required to complete an educational program or face the loss of their driving privileges for three months.

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