Computer Stalking and Internet Harassment Laws In The United States

According to media reports, 24 states have both cyberstalking and cyberharassment laws, while 10 states have only cyberstalking laws and 13 states only have cyber harassment laws in place.

Internet Harassment Law: California Penal Code 646.9

In the sunny state of California, they have some of the most strict laws in the country when it comes to cyber stalking – using a computer and/or the Internet to stalk and harass someone. Their definition of stalking is – “Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family…”

The law specifically mentions electronic communication devices. By this, they mean telephones, cellular phones, computers, video recorders, fax machines, or pagers. This is not a complete list, and they borrow heavily from Subsection 12 of Section 2510 of Title 18 of the United States Code.

Internet Harassment Law: Texas H.B. No. 2003

This was instituted in September of 2009. They basically amended the text to include ONLINE HARASSMENT, which they define as “A person commits an offense if the person uses the name or persona of another person to create a web page on or to post one or more messages on a commercial social networking site. They can also be charged if they send an “electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or other item of identifying information belonging to any person:” There are also other requirements that must be met to constitute Online Harassment in Texas, but it is one state you don’t want to mess with. The law has been used.

Internet Harassment Law: Arizona House Bill 2549

This was passed and took effect in August of 2012, making Arizona one of more than 20 states that have enacted specific laws for Internet and computer stalking. Previous laws (enacted in the 1970s) only dealt with the telephone as a communication device, which became a problem. Some opponents of the Bill stated that it was too vague with its language, but others think it goes just far enough to protect individuals against harassment using electronic communications – posts to forums, text messages, and even emails. The law does state that it does not apply to constitutionally protected speech.

Internet Harassment Law: Missouri HB 1852

In one of the more famous cases against bullying and cyberbullying, Megan Meier’s suicide prompted authorities to change laws to protect specifically against Internet harassment. Missouri HB 1852 was not popular with everyone, but it amended the definition of stalking and harassment to include electronic devices other than the telephone. Recently, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down some of the text in the law, citing concerns about free speech.

Internet Harassment Law: West Virginia Computer Crime and Abuse Act

West Virginia took steps to enact laws that specifically spell out harassment using “electronic communication devices.” In the law, they define the use of a computer, mobile phone, personal digital assistant or other electronic communication device as including but not limited to, “the transmission of text messages, electronic mail, photographs, videos, images or other nonvoice data by means of an electronic communication system, and includes the transmission of such data, documents, messages and images to another’s computer, e-mail account, mobile phone, personal digital assistant or other electronic communication device.”  They also deal with the issue of a person trying to maintain anonymity while harassing someone.

Internet Harassment Law: North Carolina S 14-196.3

Created especially to deal with Cyberstalking, North Carolina S 14-196.3   As with some other state laws, this one worded to protect any speech that would be constitutionally protected, although they define it as – “…any peaceable, nonviolent, or nonthreatening activity intended to express political views or to provide lawful information to others. This section shall not be construed to impair any constitutionally protected activity, including speech, protest, or assembly.” They also lay out very clearly what they mean by “electronic communication” as well as “electronic mail.”

Internet Harassment Law: Michigan 750.411h

This law deals specifically with stalking, dealing with definitions; what happens with violation as misdemeanor; penalties that may be given out; chances for probation and other conditions; dealing with continued conduct and additional penalties. While it is not built specifically around cyberstalking, it does mention electronic communication devices as a means of delivery for harassment or stalking.

Internet Harassment Law: Georgia § 16-5-90.

While not specifically created to deal with online harassment and stalking, the law does specifically mention technology. For the law, they turn to Code Section 16-9-92 for a definition of both “computer” and “computer network.” Before sentencing, the law states that a judge may require a psychological evaluation of the defendant and may also take into consideration the entire criminal history of the person if there is one.

Federal Stalking / Internet Harassment Laws

  • 18 U.S.C. 875(c) – This deals with threats that are given interstate. While it includes electronic communication devices like email, there must be a physical threat present to prosecute under this federal law.
  • 47 U.S.C. 223 – This has more broad definitions – ie it includes harassment as well as threats – but it only covers when a person (not using their name) harasses another directly. Therefore, it would not help for those that unknowingly dupe others into harassing their victim (through Internet trolling and other methods.)
  • 18 U.S.C. 2425 – These deals specifically with using electronic communications devices to entice children into unlawful sexual activity. While a good, tough law, it can’t be used in all cyberstalking or harassment cases.
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