Cyberstalking is generally defined as unwanted advances towards another that are conducted over the internet or through other electronic communication. Allegations of cyberstalking normally require a credible threat of harm. Cyberstalking has grown as an issue in recent years as online interaction through social media sites, electronic communication like text messaging and online activities such as online dating have grown in popularity.
Individual states have recognized the issue with the passage of their own laws that address cyberstalking and cyberharassment. Cyberharassment generally differs from cyberstalking in that it does not pose a genuine threat of harm. Cyberharassment is characterized by online behavior that is meant to torment.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the state of New York currently does not have a specific law against cyberstalking, but does have a law against cyberharassment. Laws that do not include specific language that reference electronic communication can still apply to those who harass or make threats online or through electronic communication. Those convicted of cyberstalking under state law may face misdemeanor or felony charges.
Potential Federal Law on the Horizon
The federal government has also recognized the issue and the newest iteration of The Violence Against Women Act contains specific provisions on cyberstalking. The federal law is currently up for reauthorization and the proposed cyberstalking provision may be included in the newest version of the law. The proposed provision would make it a federal crime to intimidate, harass or stalk others over the internet. Right now there are generally no federal penalties for cyberstalking and therefore any criminal punishment falls to the states.
The Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994 and was created to produce coordinated responses among federal, tribal, state and local authorities to address domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault. The new coordinated response created a federal leadership role, manages the engagement of law enforcement, court systems and social services, provides services to underserved communities and created and defined new federal crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault. The federal domestic violence law was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.
Last year the issue of cyberstalking gained media coverage in New York when a 48-year-old pizza worker from Queens became obsessed with Mayor Bloomberg's daughter and was jailed for harassment. The man was arrested less than one hour after he contacted a police sergeant to help him contact Mayor Bloomberg and his daughter to discuss wedding plans. The 48-year-old had been instructed by the police sergeant not to attempt any contact with the mayor's daughter even through a third party.
If charges of cyberstalking have been alleged against you, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to discuss your legal options.