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Understanding California’s cyberstalking laws

On Jan. 1, 2017, California’s criminal and civil laws against cyberstalking became tougher. As the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported, cyberstalking is a crime under Sections 422 and 646.9 of the California Penal Code, conviction of which now could result in a one-year jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse adds that the prison sentence increases to between two and four years if the conviction is for cyberstalking someone in violation of a restraining order.

California Civil Code Section 1708.7 gives cyberstalking victims the right to sue their stalkers for money damages. Victims also can request that the California Department of Motor Vehicles release their driver’s license and vehicle registration information only to authorized people or entities. They likewise can request that their personal information in their voter registration and/or court proceedings be kept confidential.

California passed its initial anti-stalking law in 1990, the first state to pass such a law. Recognizing that the onslaught of technology has enabled stalkers to harass and threaten their victims online as well as in person, cyberstalking soon became a distinct category incorporated into anti-stalking laws. Cyberstalking is using the internet and other electronic methods to harass and/or intimidate a victim in such a way as to cause her or him to feel threatened.

Cyberstalking examples

The ways in which cyberstalkers can harass their victims are virtually unlimited. Some of the most common include the following:

  • Identity theft; i.e, assuming the victim’s identity to open, close and/or otherwise manipulate the victim’s online bank and/or credit card accounts
  • Password changing; i.e., changing the victim’s online account passwords and settings
  • Malicious emails; i.e., sending unwanted emails, including those of a lewd, threatening or harassing nature, to the victim from numerous email accounts
  • False accounts; i.e., setting up fraudulent social media and other accounts, such as on dating sites, in the victim’s name and posting the victim’s personal information thereon

Just because cyberstalking is done online rather than through physical contact does not make it any less dangerous. Indeed, the victim’s risk of economic damage is exponentially higher from cyberstalking than from physical stalking. Likewise, the amount of damage a cyberstalker can inflict on the victim’s reputation is far greater. California lawmakers hope that the new laws and stricter penalties will discourage would-be cyberstalkers.

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