What can be done about Internet Harassment or Stalking?

Social networking sites have created a whole new breed of criminal, specifically with regard to stalking, harassment, and child endangerment. Though states are increasingly enacting laws to protect individuals (and par­ticularly children) from these types of dangers, it is important to discuss this with an attorney or the local authorities if you feel you or your child may be a victim of improper Internet con­duct. While the federal government has enacted an Anti-Cyber­ Stalking law, the Violence Against Women Act (which also protects against cyber-stalking), and the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which protects children from access to offensive content over the Internet on certain school and library computers, there remains a noticeable lack of federal legislation in this area and the law is still evolving. Absent the passage of new federal laws directed at Internet harassment or stalking, the government has had to rely on older statutes such as the CFAA in order to prosecute individuals for these actions.

Federal prosecutors have brought these charges on the theory that the defendant violated a website's terms of use, and therefore violated the conditions under which they were given authorized access to the site, when they used the site to harass or intimidate another person. The substantive legislative acts involving cyber-stalking have occurred at the state level. While federal and state laws on cyber­-stalking typically require some form of actual or implied threat for there to be criminal conduct, many foreign countries have recently criminalized broader forms of cyber-stalking, including more general forms of online abuse, malicious communication, harassment, and cyber-bullying. It should be noted that the states are increasingly recognizing the danger of Internet harass­ment and cyber-bullying. As such, the law on this issue is bound to change in the near future to address the dangers of this sort of conduct.

With that said, it is important to note that the information posted on social networking sites is public information that frequently can be viewed by anyone with Internet access. The reader should pay particular attention to embarrassing or highly personal information that may be posted for friends' enjoyment, though can also be viewed by strangers, criminals, and employers.

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