Concept of cyber-stalking as a crime
Cybercrime has grown into a prominent variety of crimes in the 21st Century. This development has raised the issue of whether internet-based technologies have created completely new types of crime that require equally new legislative and other approaches to combat, or whether they have simply offered a platform for new expressions of “normal” or traditional crimes that require adaptations of current strategies of legislation. At the center of this issue is the question of whether or not competent regulation of the internet is possible to an extent that resembles that of control over other media.
Strictly speaking, there is no single, universally accepted definition of cyber-stalking as a concept or a crime. Nonetheless, generally, the use of the term applies to describe the utilization of email, social media, and other internet-based technologies, and other technologies in the telecommunications sector to stalk, or harass others (Ogilvie, 2000). This stalking involves continuous communications targeting an individual from an unknown or a known person, even after the victim requests the perpetrator to stop all contacts. Scholars and analysts also identify inappropriate and/or disturbing content as an important aspect of these communications. In essence, cyber-stalking represents an extension of the physical form of such harassment (Ogilvie, 2000). This assessment implies that cyber-stalking involves the exploitation of convenience, personal contact or interaction, and other advantages that the internet and other telecommunication technologies in the modern world offer. As a behavior, cyber-stalking resembles the traditional forms of stalking in terms of incorporating persistent actions that cause individuals fear and apprehension about their safety and security. Nonetheless, the fact that cyber-stalking occurs in a virtual environment, rather than a physical one, draws the attention of the society to the distinct nature of the world of the internet and the way that technological developments have revolutionized communications and social contact (Ogilvie, 2000). At the same time, the fact of occurrence of this crime in a virtual environment presents challenges for regulation, especially considering that the society and its institutions of behavior control find it hard to achieve this objective through legislation and punitive measures alone.
In order to understand the nature and significance of cyber-stalking as a crime effectively, it is necessary to comprehend the nature of the internet and its advantages for the society. At a basic level, the internet is valuable as a means of transferring digitized data. It serves as a medium of convenience for members of the society in terms of the direct transfer of data among individuals (Ogilvie, 2000). In this context, these transfers involve the transmission of data between a sender and a willing or nominated recipient, such as in exchanges of data through emails. On a secondary level, the internet serves as a medium of control since interactions and the exchange of data could occur between a sender and an unwilling or unknowing party. The objective of such interactions and exchanges of data is to manipulate or exploit the receiving party (Ogilvie, 2000). The internet features the trend of exploitation of operating systems with the objective of taking over control of other computers connected to the World Wide Web. On a third level, the internet offers a platform for “range” enhancement, in terms of the electronic positioning of data in ways that can enable data “seekers” to locate and obtain it conveniently (Ogilvie, 2000). Ogilvie (2000) observes that each of these three mechanisms of data exchange constitutes a particular form of social interactions that are virtual in nature, either or not accompanying real-life interactions among individuals.
In analyzing the concept of cyber-stalking as a crime, Pittaro (2007) notes that the society has developed heavy reliance on the technological power, sheer size, and fast speed of the internet. These advantages enable the society to seek huge quantities of information, explore the unknown, and communicate with anyone, anytime, and anywhere around the world. While the internet is essentially responsible for development and enrichment of global commerce to levels that were previously inconceivable, and in the process facilitating huge advancements in healthcare, education, and human wellbeing, it has at the same time had a dark side (Pittaro, 2007). This side has involved the opening up of windows of previously unknown opportunities for crimes that challenge and transcend physical boundaries, national boundaries, and limitations to sense, punish, and diminish the social problem of cyber-stalking. As a result of these advantages and the ineffectiveness of regulation, the internet has developed into a convenient platform for cyber-stalking. The cyber-stalker utilizes the internet as a tool to harass, prey on, threaten, and generate anxiety or fear in victims using sophisticated and misunderstood tactics.
Piittaro (2007) observes a lack of adequate literature and a clear definition of cyber-stalking as a crime. The effect of this scenario is the misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of the behaviors, tactics, patterns, and objectives of cyber-stalkers. In general, cyber-stalking as a crime features uses of the internet and electronic communication platforms to create a level of targeted harassment, intimidation, anxiety, and fear among victims that is criminal. The behaviors of cyber-stalking vary widely, from a non-threatening message (such as an email) to an encounter between the stalker and the victim with potentially deadly consequences (Pittaro, 2007). The important distinction between traditional forms of stalking and cyber-stalking is that cyber-stalkers utilize the internet and other telecommunication devices to threaten, intimidate, and harass their targets. At the same time, cyber-stalking involves repetitious, pre-meditated, and often aggressive approaches and behaviors by the perpetrators.
Governments and states have only recently recognized cyber-stalking as a crime that is worthy of investigations and the application of law to punish. Nonetheless, despite this recognition, governments, societies, and agencies of law enforcement still find it hard to identify cases of cyber-stalking, identify the culprits, prove guilt, and punish the perpetrators in an appropriate way that can deter the behavior effectively. These challenges are especially owing to the incompetence of societies, law enforcement, and governments to police and regulate the expanse of the internet competently. Pittaro (2007) observes that the existing laws against cyber-crime, generally, and cyber-stalking, specifically, are essentially meaningless owing to these challenges. In particular, these challenges are significant when perpetrators of the crime operate across state and national boundaries, and when the threats that they issue are only implied, rather than actual in terms of resulting in real physical harm. This is because of the difficulties of actually proving the crime of cyber-stalking, especially in terms of meeting a standard or criterion that marks the transition into the scope of stalking. At the same time, technological development and the immense opportunities that it provides make it hard for existing laws to apply in the punishment of offenders. Hazelwood and Koon-Magnin (2013) and Pittaro (2007) observe the pattern of cyber-stalkers using sophisticated technological methods to conceal their own identities and the identities of the devices that they utilize in their activities.
Besides the challenges of policing the internet and identifying perpetrators of the crime, Gregorie (2001) observes that the ambiguity of laws targeting cyber-stalking as a crime is also a problem. Most federal and state laws in the U.S. that target cyber-stalking as a crime involve the requirement for the stalker to make a direct threat of violence against the victim before they can apply. Others only require a course of the perpetrator’s behavior to constitute an implied threat to apply. In these contexts, some conduct that meets the theoretical standard of definition of cyber-stalking, such as annoying or menacing behavior, may be inadequate to activate the provisions of laws against the crime as illegal and punishable (Gregorie, 2001).
The discussion above illustrates that the law is notoriously slow and ineffective in adapting to technological developments. The evolution of technology means that efforts to prove and respond appropriately and effectively to crimes of the internet, generally, are difficult. Cyber-stalking occurs in the widely unregulated world of the internet, which makes adequate and effective laws that can address the problem effectively and sustainably hard to make and enforce. The same characteristics of the internet that make it easy for cyber-stalking to reach victims conveniently and effectively also allow the perpetrators to conceal their own identities and those of the devices that they utilize to commit the crime easily. The effect is that the laws that target cyber-stalking as a crime in the society are ambiguous, largely impractical, and virtually useless in confronting and punishing the crime.
Gregorie, T. (2001). Cyber stalking: Dangers on the information superhighway. National Center for Victims of Crime. Retrieved from: https://victimsofcrime.org/docs/src/cyberstalking—dangers-on-the-information-superhighway.pdf
Hazelwood, S., & Koon-Magnin, S. (2013). Cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment legislation in the United States: A qualitative analysis. International Journal of Cyber Criminology 7(2): 155-168.
Ogilvie, E. (2000). The internet and cyber stalking. Criminal Justice Responses Conference paper. Retrieved from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/bdf6/bf946b770ccc5dc82ec7c185bff64dcb61f3.pdf
Pittaro, M. (2007). Cyber stalking: An analysis of online harassment and intimidation. International Journal of Cyber Criminology 1(2): 180-197.