With the improvement of technology, both federal and state laws have had to catch up by passing laws to protect users from others using it with criminal intent. Over the years, many states have passed cyberstalking laws.

Cyberstaling is also known as cyber harassment. These laws have been passed to help protect those who are victims of a stalking crime through the use of different forms of electronic communications.

Cyberstalking Laws: Definition

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, cyberstalking occurs when a person has malicious intent and communicates with the target using the Internet, email, text message and other electronic forms of communication. Message contents or online actions represent unwanted expressions and/or threatening behaviour. It is believed that cyberstalking is one of the most dangerous types of Internet harassment. Especially since there is the potential of the online harassment turning into the victim suffering from physical harm. If convicted, cyberstalking laws have penalties that range from misdemeanours to felonies.

Cyberstalking Laws: Forms of harassment

According to Police Chief Magazine, there are multiple ways someone can harass another via electronic communications. Let’s take a look at a list of potential actions that may be covered by state and federal cyberstalking laws.

  • Information gathering: This is an illegal attempt to collect personal information on a victim. Collecting personal information involves conducting continual online searches, hacking into information databases and contacting friends, family and co-workers for personal information, including, but not limited to address, phone number and work schedule.
  • Monitoring activity: This is the action of keeping tabs on the victim’s online activities, including tracing their IP address.
  • False accusations: This includes, but is not limited to, the act of setting up websites and pages dedicated to causing harm to an individual or group.
  • Cyber attacks: This involves attacks aimed at the victim’s computer data and equipment through the use of viruses.
  • Online orders: This involved the ordering of goods and services, including subscribing to magazines and websites under the victim’s name.
  • Getting others involved: This includes getting a third party involved to help stalk the victim. Third party involvement also includes sending messages to the victim’s friends, family and co-workers in a harassing manner.
  • False victimization: This is when the cyberstalker claims he or she is the victim of harassment. Many stalkers will go to the police when they feel the victim is getting ready to file a claim in the hopes of having the victim arrested for harassment.
  • Messaging: This includes the sending of harassing and threatening messages directly to the victim and the victim’s friends, family and co-workers.
  • Greeting cards: This involved the sending of electronic greeting cards that are inappropriate and unwanted.
  • Hacking: This is when the stalker gains access to the victim’s computer and Internet connection.
  • Personal ads: This involves the creating and posting of personal ads using the victim’s name and personal information.

Cyberstalking Laws 

In 1999 the first cyberstalking law known as the U.S. Federal Anti-Cyber-Stalking law was introduced. Little by little states started to follow suit by introducing their own cyberstalking laws. However, according to Harvard Law, less than one-third of the states have anti-stalking laws that cover acts made via the Internet and electronic communications.

Federal law cyberstalking laws state that anyone who sends threats to injure another person sent via electronic communications may be found guilty of a federal crime. Those found guilty of cyberstalking may face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Methods of electronic communication according to the law include telephone, email, beepers or the Internet, thus including text messages and social media sites.

According to Purdue University, most state stalking laws require that a credible threat of violence be made toward the victim and his or her immediate family. Some state laws require more than just online messages and threatening behaviour.

The introduction of the Internet has opened many doors for people to communicate with each other. The addition of social media sites, text messaging capabilities and instant access to email communications, makes communicating with those who are far away from possible. It also opens doors for many to fall victim to cyberstalking and easier for those doing the stalking to keep tabs on their victims. Protect yourself from becoming a victim by knowing the signs and laws surrounding online stalking.