Cyberstalking and cyber harassment: knowing the laws and your rights


Most of us in the hacker world have been stalked or are being stalked right now. For this reason, we try to plant eyes and ears everywhere to know everything about the unseen threats lying in the shadows, waiting to strike.

But some of you aren’t hackers. You’re an everyday person. Some of you even know that you’re being hunted by a cyberstalker right now. If any of the above applies to you, this is definitely for you.

According to one source, cyberstalking is a crime that affects 7.5 million people every year, including minors. These figures only reflect the known cases and don’t reflect on unreported instances.

People stalk for different reasons. Some people become possessed with the need to know about what another person is doing or who they know for all kinds of reasons. But it’s the darker form of cyberstalking that’s most concerning. I’m talking about the malicious kind that is driven by an insatiable hunger to cause mental pain and torment to others.

Whether online or offline, these people become consumed with the need to exercise control over their targets, often through tactics designed to induce fear. But the important thing you need to take away from this is that cyberstalking and cyber harassment are very illegal.

If this is you, and you have reported it to your local police department only to be turned away, that is likely due to local authorities not being used to investigating matters that are outside the common garden variety complaints they encounter. However, the FBI investigates criminal complaints regarding cyberstalking because the internet falls under Federal jurisdiction in the United States.

When blocking isn’t enough

The thing is, sometimes, just blocking a person isn’t enough. It baffles me how some stalkers can keep creating scores of fake social media accounts just to torment their victims. While you block one account, three more spring up, and you might not even know they’re fake until it's too late.

I’ve been investigating a couple of stalking cases where the stalker repeatedly social-engineered Child Protective Services (CPS) to try to have a woman’s children taken from her. The false accusations caused multiple investigations to be launched since CPS has to investigate such matters to determine the merit of complaints for the sake of children’s safety.

Additionally, the stalker attempted to hack into her home security cameras and had others do the same. The extent of the cyberstalking is far worse when they’re technologically savvy. The point is that cyberstalking isn’t just about receiving unwanted messages from a persistent individual.

Worse, cyberbullies often don’t cyberstalk alone. So, it’s not just one person you’re dealing with but a whole group of them, with all their fake profiles. This is the norm in the circles I observe, where individuals and groups follow a sort of mob mentality, eagerly searching for new ways to terrify their victims and laugh about their pain, even if the victim dies.

In one case I learned about, the cyberstalkers managed to drive a person to suicide and laughed about it. They showed no remorse for their actions nor regard for human life and continue to this day to search for new victims to potentially kill through the antics of their Dark Psychology – personality traits described by the Dark Triad, which includes narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

I was once the target of a cyberstalker. Blocking him proved futile. Even when I thought he’d given up, he was secretly whispering in the ears of those closest to me, trying to turn them against me.

His goals were simple – he wanted to frame me so he could have me arrested. Additionally, he intended to succeed in breaking up my family unit, as well as the satisfaction of rising to notoriety as the person who separated me from my hacking group so he could become its leader.

He managed to convince the police to try to hunt me down and nearly succeeded. No matter what I did – or didn’t do, he was on my case night and day. He enjoyed getting me worked up, causing me to lose sleep. In the end, I took the law into my own hands and committed a series of hacking crimes that ultimately led to my arrest.

Knowing the law

In the United States, it is a crime to stalk and harass someone online, and depending on the circumstances and what it involves, it can rack up a variety of different charges. This can encompass both Civil, State, and Federal laws.

Moreover, because it involves communicating over the internet, which is again a Federal jurisdiction, it can easily escalate into a federal crime, which the law takes very seriously.

Let’s go over these laws so we can become better acquainted with them. I’ve only presented the sections that can apply to cyberstalking and harassment described under Title 18 U.S. Code § 2261. This is typically used for penalties against stalking. However, its definition has been expanded to include cyberstalking.

Though stalking and cyberstalking vary in how they are carried out, the ultimate impact on the presumed victim remains the same. To quickly summarize, if you use the internet to intimidate or harass someone to the point that the acts cause the victim to feel fear and emotional distress, you’ve committed a crime.

Whoever:

(1) travels in interstate or foreign commerce or is present within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or enters or leaves Indian country, with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, and in the course of, or as a result of, such travel or presence engages in conduct that—

(A) places that person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to –

(i) that person;

(B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of subparagraph (A); or

(2) with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, uses the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce to engage in a course of conduct that –

(A) places that person in reasonable fear of the death of or serious bodily injury to a person, a pet, a service animal, an emotional support animal, or a horse described in clause (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv) of paragraph (1)(A); or

(B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (1)(A), shall be punished as provided in section 2261(b) or section 2261B, as the case may be.

At this point, such a person is looking at a ballpark figure of up to 5 years in prison, “Fed Time,” as they call it, including a fine of up to $250,000.

It’s the interstate territory that makes these crimes Federal. That’s because the internet is a web of computers that aren’t limited to a single geographical location and are connected to other computers across cities, county borders, states, and, of course, the world.

The prison sentence gets longer if it involves any of the following: The victim is a minor, Swatting, sextortion, revenge porn, or cyberbullying – these can violate both State and Federal laws and are just a few examples.

If you believe you’d only receive Federal prison time, think again. It’s not uncommon for both the State and the Federal government to charge an individual and carry out prison sentences that can’t be served concurrently. Let’s not forget any potential lawsuits raised by the victim.

For any victims of cyberstalking and cyber harassment who may be reading this, don’t forget: “The squeakiest wheel gets the most oil.” Sometimes, if you find that your criminal complaint against your cyberstalker isn’t being taken seriously, it pays to be persistent.

Preserve any evidence that accumulates from your stalker, and then take the complaint to the FBI. That way, when the predator is stopped, you don’t just stop malicious attacks against yourself, but you stop the attacks targetting other victims and prevent future attacks.


More from Cybernews:

AT&T services back up, cause of outage still unknown

London Stock Exchange Group platforms suffer brief outages

Meta’s “Pay or Okay” policy a dangerous precedent, activists say

Google pauses Gemini’s image generation tool over inaccurate images

Germany targeted by Russian propaganda, claims analyst 

Subscribe to our newsletter



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are markedmarked