Everybody is aware of the fact that online stalking and harassment is becoming a major problem; in fact cyberstalking incidents are increasing everyday. With this kind of a growing problem you would think that our lawmakers, both federal and state, would create laws that would allow the cyberstalkers to be punished. But as it currently stands there are some gaps in both the state and federal laws that need to be filled in.
Here is a look at the laws that are currently in effect for cyberstalking.
As it stands today only about one third of the states within the United States have laws that deal directly with cyberstalking, which means that the laws were either written or rewritten to cover stalking over the Internet or with other electronic communication devices, such as cell phones and pagers. In 1990 California was the first state to rewrite their stalking laws to include cyberstalking. All fifty states have some type of stalking law, which in some cases will cover online stalking and harassment, but not all online stalking and harassment cases will fall under the general stalking laws. The reason for this is that laws for physical stalking require a person to make a threat or to follow somebody around in person with the intent to harm or harass them. Cyberstalking doesn’t always fit into that category because one form of cyberstalking is where the stalkers take on the victim’s identity and post rude and offensive things, including pornographic pictures, of the victim.
Like the individual state laws the federal laws that are in effect leave some things to be desired for when it comes to cyberstalking, but the current laws that are in effect are important tools when it comes to battling cyberstalking. Here are the federal laws that are currently in effect for cyberstalking.
18 U.S.C. 875 (c) — under this law it is a crime to transmit any type of communication in interstate or foreign commerce that contains a threat to injure another person. Because this law contains any communication the Internet and other electronic communication devices are covered under this law, but only if there is an actual threat to harm somebody. This law does not cover harassment or the posting of messages on bulletin boards, etc. But if somebody is convicted of this crime they can face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
47 U.S.C. 223 — under this law it is a crime to use a telephone or telecommunications device to annoy, harass, or threaten any person at the called number. But in order for this law to be effective the person doing the harassment has to reveal his or her name, so it would not cover cases where the cyberstalker harasses or annoys another person by posting messages on bulletin boards or encouraging others to harass the person. If convicted under this law the cyberstalker only faces a misdemeanor charge which is punishable by not more than two years in prison.
Interstate Stalking Act — this was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996 and made it a crime for any person to travel across state lines with the intent to injure or harass another person and in the course thereof places that person or their family in a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. This law is covered under 18 U.S.C. 2261A. This law is usually not applied to cyberstalking cases because the person actually has to physically travel across state lines to be prosecuted.
18 U.S.C. 2425 — this law makes it a federal crime to use any means of interstate or foreign commerce (phones, Internet, etc) to knowingly communicate with a minor with the intention to solicit or entice the child into unlawful sexual activity. This law does not cover harassing phone calls to minors unless there is the intent to solicit or entice the child into illicit sexual activities.
As you can see we have come a long way in protecting people from cyberstalking, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Currently the cyberstalking laws that are in effect to help protect you against online stalking and harassment leave some large gaps that allow cyberstalkers to get away with harassing and annoying victims. What we need to focus on now is filling in those gaps by creating laws that cover all aspects of online stalking and harassment.