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July 3, 2000-- Newsletter #87
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HTMLGOODIES EXPRESS (tm)
July 3, 2000--Newsletter #87
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,
By the time you get around to reading this, I will either be in London or I'll be back in Louisiana. It all depends on when the Earthweb server has time to send out the newsletter. I'd like to tell you all about my trip, but I haven't taken it yet. I'm writing this newsletter before I leave, so I apologize for any outdated information. I'll be back live next week.
We can all describe the concept of stalking. It's usually someone constantly following, spying, or harassing another person either out of malice or infatuation. Usually we hear of stalking as something that's done person to person, but now there have been reports of people using the Internet as a means of stalking another.
Now, you may not consider what I write in this newsletter literal stalking but keep in mind that the Internet is so new, that law still don't specifically exist to describe the acts people are undertaking. For example, if you enter another person's computer and destroy files you can be charged with trespassing and vandalism. Current law is being used to apply to what people are doing in cyberspace.
The examples of Internet stalking often come in the form of a vendetta. In one case a woman fired an employee. That employee took his revenge by signing her up for multiple pornography newsletters and sites. She began receiving multiple subscriptions to magazines she never ordered, and finally phone calls from men who claim she met them in a chat room.
None of this happened of course. This was all the work of the employee she had fired earlier.
What if this was happening to you? You would want the person stopped, right? Well, good luck. The law isn't exactly on your side. Such harassment is classified as stalking and stalking itself is only a misdemeanor. The law can't really get involved past that unless there is a verifiable threat of bodily harm. So, if you follow the logic, the woman above can only cite harassment in each case if, and this is a big if, she can prove the man is first doing this then if she can prove he is doing it out of malice. She could go as far as filing a civil suit, but unless he makes a threat, that's about where her defense ends.
Lawyers in the case above suggest that if you do become the victim of cyber-stalking, you need to do more than rely on the local police, who truly don't have the means to go after such a person.
Suggestions for a successful prosecution include keeping a record of every contact you believe was made by the stalker. In addition, it would be a good idea to have a private investigator that is skilled in following cyber crime paths attempt to trace the messages back through the Internet to the stalker.
If the stalker is using company systems or is in some way disrupting a company's ability to do business, then it's possible to bring charges against the stalker under the Computer Crime Act. In that case, federal authorities will get involved.
The big trick is to make sure it is the person you think it is performing the stalker. Gaining times and trace records by subpoenaing an ISP's records may be the only way to go about it. Of course, to do this, you need to get a lawyer involved.
What you can and cannot do varies from state to state. To check on your state's laws, you need to visit http://www.nvc.org/law/statestk.htm. The problem here is that unless the perpetrator lives in your own state, you may need to prosecute under the laws of the state he or she lives in. It can get very confusing. In addition almost a third of the states do not have laws that cover stalking via the Internet.
The concern over cyber stalking is nothing new. In September of 1999, a bill introduced by Rep. Sue Kelley, R-N.Y. would rewrite stalking laws to include harassment over email, Internet, and telephone as a result of the Internet. The White House is behind the bill. U.S. Vice President Al Gore said, Cyber-stalking is a very serious new problem confronting us in the information age, while calling for tougher legislation.
Last year, reports suggested over 300,00 men and over 1 million women we stalked. The statistic does not break down the number of stalking incidents involving the Internet, but I dare suggest, the number of harassment cases involving the Web will only increase. Why wouldn't a stalker use the Web? The system provides a shield and as long as the stalker doesn't threat bodily harm, the only method of stopping him or her is to spend the money to trace and then file a civil suit.
There may be one other method according to the articles I read. One private investigator said that finding the perpetrator and sending a letter that reads, I know who you are, where you are located, and if you continue I'll bring civil charges, tends to stop a stalker who needs to hide behind the Internet. As soon as he or she isn't anonymous, the thrill is gone and fear sets in.
But, of course, this doesn't work in all cases. If you are being cyber-stalked, the best thing to do is to keep records of all contact. If the harassment doesn't stop after a period of time, you may need to take action involving an investigator and a lawsuit. It's expensive and even if you win, the penalty isn't all that great.
Hopefully the laws will change soon enough so that there doesn't have to be a terrible incident to capture the attention of the public and force lawmakers to move on the issue.
That's that. I'll be good to be back in my own bed and tapping on my own computer soon. Thanks for reading.
Joe Burns, Ph.D.
And Remember: We've all heard about Eli Whitney and his invention, the Cotton Gin. The word Gin does not, as is often believed, a reference to alcohol. Gin is actually a slang term used in the U.S. south to describe an engine of any kind. Whitney used the slang term hoping it would endear the machine to the people who were most likely to buy it. The problem was, people did buy it. Once they bought it, farmers realized how simple the Gin really was and others found it easier and cheaper to build the gin themselves. Whitney was out if business by 1797, only five years after getting started.