The Legal Side of Online Stalking and Harassment

by Barbara J. Feldman on October 27, 2007

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.

State Laws:

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.

Federal Law:

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.

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Cite This Page

Feldman, Barbara. "The Legal Side of Online Stalking and Harassment." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 27 Oct. 2007. Web. 30 Sep. 2014. <http://www.surfnetkids.com/tech/1221/the-legal-side-of-online-stalking-and-harassment/ >.


  • http://Facebook Madeline

    I am being what I think is harrassed over facebook by a boy who attends my highschool. Anything I post or comment he comes in with rude remarks name calling and small threatss he just now was saying he was going to meet me at school and say it to my face calling me foul names. I said I wouldn’t put it past him to hit a girl.( I had a friend come to me in private saying he tried to force himsekf on her) I did NOT Mention the indicent in the comments. He said he was going to the police. What can I be charged for? I feel uncinfortable with him sralking me over facebook.

  • john doe

    I met a women on line that I thought was turning into an actual relationship and I was planning on moving to the same state she lives in prior to meeting her. I ended up lending her a thousand dollars to help her through what I though was a legit difficult time. The the day came when she was to pay me back but is avoiding me all of a sudden. I keep emailing and texting her to find out when am I getting paid back…she never answers that question but threatens harrassment charges. What can I do? I have a text saying thanks for my help and she will pay me back. I know her address, license plate number, work info. I have text and emails saying she loves me, cant wait till i move there, etc…I have pictures of her (some naughty). What can I do since im not a stalker but thats how she keeps avoiding the fact that she owes me money?

  • tammy

    In the late 80’s to early 90’s I was in a very violent relationship with a man who left scars on me that are a constant reminder of how violent & dangerous he is. Now, 20 yrs with no contact and 3 weeks ago he started calling and texting me. Probably 50-100 times. A day all death threats describing in graphic detail how he is going to murder me. I called the police, they came out & although they listened to his voice mails & read the texts all they had to tell me was why don’t I just change my number. Is there something I can do? He is crazy enough to carry out the threats he is making

    • SM

      http://www.victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/stalking-resource-center/about-us

      Try this site, I’m not sure which state you are in but hopefully this helps.

      http://www.victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/find-local-assistance—connect-directory

      Sometimes local law enforcement isn’t up to date on high tech crimes. Hopefully the directory can help you get in contact with a local resource in your area who can help you.

      What he is doing is cyberstalking. Depending on the state he can be charged with stalking, abuse of computer and other communication, electronic devices, harassment, etc.

      If you file for a restraining order, in some states, any contact with you would result in his violating a restraining order and most likely going to jail. Unfortunately every state has different laws.

      The website link at the top has a handbook that might help you with safety advice.

      Be safe. God bless.

  • http://www.surfnetkids.com/go/safety/194/the-legal-side-of-online-stalking-and-harassment/#respond Pam

    Yea, so why don’t we have interstate internet stalking a crime. You don’t think the perves cross state line for a juicey young piece of ass? Not to mention the pervs who try to intimidate people they “USED” to know.

  • Leonard Rudolph

    I have a question, can a company that you are working for look into your private texts on facebook?
    I do understand that there are those that abuse the face book but not everyone falls into that category. They are looking to see who is speaking bad about the company,I respect that but must the rest be exposed for one rotten apple? Is there legal rights that i can take to protect my sight? I do not want the company to see what I am posting or text; a lot of it is private and confidential.

  • Anu

    Cyberstalking is on an alarming rise. In the real world, a stalker is easy to expose. Online, people who pretend to be respectable individuals in the society, drop that garb online. They can’t be caught. There is no such thing as conscience for these individuals. A woman becomes an easy target for them.

    I wish the online world would be more secure and every online account would have a summary of login details of IP addresses that log into it. Gmail has this feature. This should be made mandatory for all online a/cs.