Online Privacy - Guarding Against Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is the practice of using online resources in order to harass, vilify, threaten or misrepresent others. Stalking does not consist of a single act or incident, but of a pattern of behavior. The victim of such behavior may or may not be aware that they are being stalked. In other instances, the victim's distress over incidents related to the cyberstalking may be a part of the response the perpetrator hopes to accomplish.

Laws against cyberstalking are becoming more common, but there is still often a refusal on the part of law enforcement to perceive stalking, whether electronically or in the physical world, as a serious crime. In fact, except for some rather high profile cases, victims of stalkers were commonly told that nothing can be done unless the instigator commits a crime. Sadly, the same thing is true of cyberstalking. Because each individual act in itself may not be a punishable offense, cyberstalking often goes unpunished.

Another difficulty with taking a case against a cyberstalker to court is the privacy laws themselves in the United States. Finding out information on the internet is ridiculously easy, but at the same time, laws are on the books which prohibit release of and access to information of a secure nature. For example, a telephone number can be used to find a name and physical address. Social security numbers, credit card and banking information even the place of employment and co-worker information can be found by a few minutes search even by someone who is only semi-computer literate.

Sometimes cyberstalkers are accomplished hackers on the internet. They are able to appear to be the victim and can sign up for all sorts of unwanted websites, products and forums. They can cause the legitimate user to be banned from needed sites including their own online banking or credit card information by changing password information. They can harass the victim at work by causing inappropriate purchases such as sex toys to be delivered at the victim's workplace. Pornographic images and other material can be placed on a false website such as MySpace that purports to be created by the victim.

Because state laws for the most part are the ones that are used to prosecute cyberstalkers, they are unevenly applied, with many jurisdictions having no ban on such practices and others are unclear as to wording and consequences. Probably a consistent equitable federal statute regarding the practice of cyberstalking is the best way to provide additional protection to victims. Additionally, better standards and practices from individuals and businesses in securing sensitive information would help prevent leaks of such data.

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