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Online stalking is a problem that has become more and more pervasive as the Internet has grown and peoples’ online presence has become progressively more tied in with the real world. When a person uses the Internet to continually invade the privacy of a person or organization, it can amount to online stalking. Generally, it is tough to prosecute because of the nature of the crime. However, governments have made efforts to put online stalking laws on their books and law enforcement has focused on combating these crimes.
Stalking is typically defined as traveling with the intent of killing, injuring, or harassing a person. Often, victims of stalking are members of the stalker's immediate family or a spouse or intimate partner of that person. Over the years, jurisdictions have amended their laws to include specifically anyone who commits these acts “through the use of any interactive computer service” to encompass online stalking. There are many different ways someone can use the Internet to act in a way that amounts to stalking. One common method is creating a fake online persona to establish contact and attempt to manipulate the victim. An even more dangerous example of online stalking is posting that person’s personal information on public web sites.
The nature of online stalking makes it difficult to prosecute because the stalker could be anywhere in the world. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies have the ability to determine the stalker’s location through his or her Internet protocol (IP) address. Generally, getting law enforcement involved will frighten the stalker to the point that he or she will stop harassing the victim. In the event that the stalker continues to stalk his or her victim online, then the victim will have to rely on the online stalking laws in place in his or her jurisdiction for protection.
Most jurisdictions have amended their stalking laws to provide for instances of online stalking. By documenting all harassing contacts, recording the stalker’s IP address, and working with local law enforcement, the victim has his or her best chance of ending the harassment. If a successful prosecution is made and the stalker is found guilty of online stalking, the penalty will vary based on the jurisdiction and the egregiousness of his or her actions. Typically, though, online stalking is considered a felony and can result in jail time of anywhere between one year to a life sentence, the latter being the most likely punishment if the victim is killed as a result of the stalking.
Some of these websites are reluctant to remove information they obtained through legal means. I had to threaten legal action against one of them before they finally removed my phone number and address from their database. Cyberstalkers scare me to death anyway, and I didn't want to make it easier for someone to track me down.
I met someone online who used to work in the entertainment business as a child actress. I wouldn't call her famous, and I'd have to remind people what show she was on and when it aired. However, as a challenge I tried to find out as much as I could about her online. I started with a simple GOOGLE search and then went to free sites where public information was available.
I was stunned to discover how much information about a person is available online. Within two hours, I had her home address, personal phone number, names of possible relatives, the value of her home, and much more. If I were a stalker, I would have had everything I
needed to invade her private life and appear at her doorstep. She has since taken steps to have her information removed from the Internet, but some things can't be removed, like property tax records and public phone listings.
As I said, I was not a stalker and I had no evil intentions towards this person. But people need to be aware of how easy it is for a disturbed person with Internet access to find them and their loved ones. She told me she had no idea all of that "private" information was published online.
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