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Many bad things in the real world become all the more horrifying in the virtual world. One of the more disturbing is cyberstalking. Like its physical world counterpart, Cyberstalking generally refers to the use of the Internet, e-mail, or electronic communications devices to "stalk" another person - where 'stalking' in the traditional sense means to engage in repeated harassing or threatening behavior (such as following a person, appearing at a person's home or workplace, making harassing telephone calls, or leaving written messages or objects) that places the victim in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury.
Yet cyberstalking is all the more disturbing in a few ways. First, the ability of the Internet to empower anonymous communication makes it all the harder for the victim and law enforcement to identify the perpetrator. Second, as the Internet constitutes the death of distance, the victim has no idea whether the perpetrator is 100 miles away, in the same city, or in the next cubicle. Finally, as will be seen, in the same way hackers can launch denial of service attacks, perpetrators can use the Internet to amplify the harassment, luring third parties to join into the ploy. Everything that is beneficial about the Internet that lowers barriers to access and makes communications easier likewise makes it easier for individuals to do bad deeds as well.
In the first successful prosecution under California's cyberstalking law, prosecutors in the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office reported obtained a guilty plea from a 50-year-old former security guard who used the Internet to solicit the rape of a woman who rejected his romantic advances. The defendant reportedly terrorized his 28-year-old victim by impersonating her in various Internet chat rooms and online bulletin boards, where he posted, along with her telephone number and address, messages that she fantasized of being raped. On at least six occasions, sometimes in the middle of the night, men knocked on the woman's door saying they wanted to rape her. The former security guard reportedly pleaded guilty in April 1999 to one count of stalking and three counts of solicitation of sexual assault. He faced up to six years in prison. [DOJ Report]
Generally, stalking is a matter for local police authorities. There are occasions where the situation rises to a federal matter. However, the Department of Justice has expressed misgivings about the adequacy of federal law to respond to cyberstalking. Federal law generally suffers from several fatal flaws. Generally the law deals only with direct communication between the perpetrator and the victim; where the perpetrator persuades third parties to be become participants and vehicles of the harassment, the law is inadequate. In addition, while a federal stalking law has passed, it involves instances of interstate travel; the perpetrator must travel across state lines making the law frequently inapplicable. [18 USC § 2261A]
USDOJ: How You Can Protect Against CyberStalking - And What to Do if You Are A Victim
What to Do If You Are Being Cyberstalked
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), working behind the scenes with leaders on the Judiciary Committee in the House and in the Senate, authored language protecting women against online cyberstalking, and a bill- Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005- was passed and signed into law by the President.
McDermott's efforts answered a call for help from Joelle Ligon, a Seattle woman who had lived a nightmare of being stalked online. When she first went to authorities for help it was determined that no 20th century law applied to this 21st century crime. Ligon's plight gained national attention.
"Every woman has the right to be safe," McDermott said, "but until now cyberstalking using the Internet was outside the reach of authorities. We've changed that and made the world online safer for Joelle and everyone else."
McDermott's language is contained in H.R. 3402: Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005. At its core, the language expands the definition of a telecommunications device connecting two parties to include the Internet. It does not affect online message boards or anonymous online posting.
McDermott credited and thanked Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who serve on the committees of jurisdiction, for their roles in working collaboratively and in a bi-partisan way to get the legislation passed and signed into law.
In May, 2004, Rep. McDermott first spoke about Ms. Ligon on the floor of the House of Representatives, alerting colleagues and others to the need for action. - Press Release Jan 11, 2006. See also Rep. Jim McDermott Speach, Cyberstalking (May 5, 2004)
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