Alexandra Katehakis, writing earlier this month in the Huffington Post, claims that cyberstalking is the "fastest growing crime" our society now faces. "In the old days, you might be mugged face to face in an alley, or followed by a creep in a trench coat. Today you are more likely to be a victim of cyberstalking, identity theft, or online harassment. The numbers are astonishing." She cites, as evidence of this, a Guardian article by Karen McVeigh. "Cyberstalking is now more common than physical harassment, according to new figures due to be released next week, with many victims finding themselves pursued by complete strangers online," writes McVeigh. "The first study of its kind to look at the extent and effect of cyberstalking, taking in social networking sites, email and mobile phones, has revealed the profile of perpetrators to be radically different from those who pursue victims face-to-face. Victims surveyed by Echo (Electronic Communication Harassment Observation), at Bedford University, reported that their harassers were more likely to be a complete stranger or a casual acquaintance than a former partner. Another major finding was that nearly 40 percent of cyberstalking victims are men. Past studies have identified women as much more at risk from face-to-face stalking."
On its face, the study makes sense. There are more tools available now than ever before if you wish to find information on someone. Want someone's phone number? It may be listed online. Want to know where they live? You might be able to do a reverse lookup on that phone number to get an address. Want to see what that location looks like? Google Street View may have a helpful image detailing the address and the neighborhood around it. Want to know who their relatives are? There's always Facebook. Want to hear their day-to-day thoughts? Check out their Twitter account. Want to make a late-night phone call and do some heavy breathing or threatening? You can buy a prepaid "burner" phone at almost any grocery store.
The list goes on. Yes, our society is increasingly connected through the Internet and electronic devices. We're all carrying smartphones now; the Internet of Things is closer than you might think, connecting everything and everyone to an overarching network. If someone wants to find information on you, if they want to monitor you from remove, the Internet is the most useful means of doing so. This is a fact of modern life. But to say that "cyberstalking" is now a greater threat than physical mugging or other real-life, "meatspace" security concerns is ridiculous ... if only because you can't stop a mugging by simply turning off your computer and walking away.
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The other component to this alleged increase in the pervasive threat of "cyberstalking" is the participation of the "victims." Remember that list of potential vulnerabilities? Well, you probably can't do much about Google Street View, but the rest – your Facebook account, your Twitter account, your websites and blogs, etc. – is entirely voluntarily. It's information you are volunteering. If you are feeling threatened or stalked online, you have the option not to participate in social media. You don't have to have a Facebook account. You don't have to write a blog. You don't have to offer your opinions on Twitter. Yet we behave as if these things are not only entitlements, but that we have some inalienable right never to see or hear things that upset us. Threats are always wrong, yes, but criticism and dissent are another matter. Unfortunately, we are nearing a future in which simply disagreeing with someone online could be illegal on the basis that it makes them feel "uncomfortable."
Just this week, the Des Moines Register commented on a proposed state law that would expand Iowa's existing cyberstalking statute. "The bill would [expand the state definition of cyberstalking] to include instances in which a person is 'repeatedly utilizing a technological device to locate, listen to, or watch' someone else for no 'legitimate purpose,' if a reasonable person would feel frightened or threatened by those actions," according to the editorial. "On the plus side, this bill would make it easier to prosecute jilted boyfriends and serial abusers who might use GPS tracking devices or smartphone technology to monitor or track their victims. But it also would criminalize the use of computers to search for someone's address or place of employment if some theoretical 'reasonable person' would feel frightened by those actions."
The problem herein is that when a law relies, not an objective standard, but on someone's feelings, the potential for abuse and mischief far outweighs the good intentions behind any such legislation.
If you're a conservative or libertarian who participates on social media, you've experienced this only too often. Utter any opinion that falls outside the rigid, fascist dictates of political correctness, and you will be hounded, shouted down, insulted and trolled by the legions of hard-left liberal-progressives shuffling in zombie lockstep across the Internet to the tune of Obama's fife. They've tried to institute multiple programs wherein any opinion not approved by Glorious Leader Obama is sent to some White House email (remember [email protected] and the disastrous joke that was the Twitter #truthteam hashtag?) or otherwise informed on. Is it so great a leap to worry that laws targeting cyberstalking, instituted within a popular culture that already leans left, will criminalize any utterance of opinion that is not politically correct?
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To a progressive, any opinion he or she dislikes is "harassment." When that progressive posts his opinions publicly, any dissenting response is "stalking" or some other affront. You'll see claims of this over and over again. Whining liberals, who cannot defend their intellectually bankrupt, entitled, and self-destructive ideology, are forever mewling that they should never be exposed to opinions that make them "uncomfortable." Empowering these weak-minded individuals with the force of law, whether we call it "cyberstalking" or something else, is a very bad idea. It holds all society hostage to the hysterical emotions of an insecure few. It also criminalizes the exchange of opposing ideas in the public sphere – a concept through which, in which, and on which our free society was built.
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