Legislation Regarding Cyberharassment and Cyberstalking

It may shock you and perhaps appall you to hear that despite the fact that all 50 states and the Federal Government have laws against stalking, less than one half of states’ stalking statutes specifically address cyberstalking and cyberharassment.

Due to the unique nature of cyberstalking, the perpetrator and the victim are often in different states or even different countries. Once crimes are committed across state lines, Federal Laws take over to avoid any confusion regarding differences in state laws. Therefore, most cyberstalking laws are Federal Laws.

One of the biggest anti-cyberstalking laws on the books actually is intended to protect children from online predators. While this law is mainly intended to prevent people from using mass communication devices to solicit sexual favors from children, it does nothing to protect adults from harassing emails and postings.

In 1996, Clinton signed U.S.C. 2261A, which made it illegal to travel across state lines for the intention of injuring or harassing another person. Unfortunately, this law is hard to use in cyberstalking cases, since most cyberstalkers rarely actually cross the state line to cause the harm.

As you can see, Federal legislation seems to fall somewhat short on complete protection against cyberstalkers, but at least there are some protections. The use or encouragement of third parties to harass or injure a victim remains largely unaddressed by Federal regulators.

What seems to be most obviously missing is a law specifically prohibiting a person from using the any kind of Interstate communication to encourage or recruit a third party to engage in harassing or threatening behavior.

What is the big holdup? Well, unfortunately, cyberstalking is not a crime the same way that stealing a car is a crime. It’s easy to identify the crime of car theft. It’s not always so easy to identify a specific set of behaviors that constitute cyberstalking or cyberharassment. Many of the things that a cyberstalker does are legal actions in and of themselves. Only when taken within the context of each other do those actions collectively become a threatening behavior. Due to this aspect of the crime, making laws to guard against it is a very difficult and careful process. First Amendment issues always crop up when discussing anti-cyberstalking laws.

Understandably, laws regarding cyberstalking need to be quite wide in their berth. Once a law that covers the use of an communication medium begins to broaden, free speech issues are raised. Some activities of a stalker can actually be argued as part of free speech. The underlying theory of free speech actually permits some things to exist so that freedom is not impinged upon, but there are limitations. It is up to the Federal government to decide where to draw the line when it comes to cyberstalking and cyberharassment and free speech infringement.

Have a great day!

Lawrence