Cyber – Anonymous

May 27, 2014 0 Comments

Hiding behind a computer screen in a lonely apartment, a downtown office or wi-fi enabled coffee shop, the cyber stalker believes her actions untraceable and maybe even normal. The actions they take pursing their victims seem harmless. Being removed from the real world, the cyber-stalker may not really see the impacts of her behavior, worse, she may believe the insulation provided by the internet allows her to say or do whatever she wants. “It’s a free country, I can say whatever I want,”  the cyber-stalker utters. Not true. Harassing, intimidating, embarrassing or untrue speech about others does not rise to the level of political speech and has, therefore, never been protected. Just as I can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater that is not actually burning, I can’t post a blog that says my “ex” started a fire in a crowded theater when she actually did not.

Take the case of Gary Dellapenta, one of the first ever convicted for cyber-stalking under a then new California Cyber-Stalking Statute. Dellapenta terrorized a 28-year-old North Hollywood woman who had repeatedly rejected his advances. He began by posting ads in her name on various sites in which he told others that she had fantasies of being raped and participating in gang bangs. Six different men responded to the ad and actually came to her house saying they were there to rape her. She was tormented mentally and was forced to move because of Dellapenta’s actions. Fortunately, the victim was never physically harmed. Dellepenta’s anonymity was blown, he was arrested and eventually he was sentenced to serve a six year prison sentence. “Man Pleads Guilty to Using Net to Solicit Rape” by Greg Miller, L.A. Times, April 29, 1999.

The “free-speech” argument posed by anonymous cyberstalkers has been tried and rejected. Laws punishing cyberstalking crimes have been upheld in both state and federal Courts.  In U.S. v. Bowker, the facts revealed that Bowker began stalking a local news reporter, Tina Knight. He sent multiple emails saying such things as, “Thanks for my daily Tina Knight fix. Thanks for helping me get my nuts off,” and “More Tina Knight, that is what I want and need.” He also made remarks about watching her from outside her home. When she moved to another state, he continued emailing her and even sent a physical letter to her new address. When convicted of stalking and cyberstalking, he appealed on the basis that the statute was unconstitutionally overbroad. The Sixth Circuit found that the statute was constitutional on its face, and that it was extremely unlikely that any constitutionally protected speech would be affected.  U.S. v. Bowker 372 F.3d 365 (2004). See http://cyberstalking.web.unc.edu/caselaw/.

                Very recently, a New Jersey woman was banned from posting about her husband and children on social media sites. Again, the first amendment claim was shot down by the Court. As a condition of probation, the woman was stopped from posting about her children and ex-husband. Her online writings talked about, among other things, the Book of Revelations, Jeffrey Dahmer, Satan and Adolph Hitler. The Judge called them “rambling, irrational, disturbing and bizarre.”  The woman argued that the ban was overly vague and restrictive of her First Amendment liberties. The appellate court disagreed, saying the decision did not restrict the woman from writing about anything other than her family, and was directed at protecting her children, whom she abducted three years ago. While obviously, in this case, the earlier actions proved a credible off-line threat, the woman continued her harassment through intimidating and harassing posts.

People can feel threatened, intimidated, harassed and annoyed by repeated texts and emails. Various laws protect individual’s rights to be free from being put in fear for their safety or even from being subjected to nuisances. Often, an ex-boyfriend, girlfriend or ex-spouse is the target and the Courts have Orders in place to attempt to minimize this behavior. Further, cyberstalking laws in many states make these communications illegal. As the legal system has caught up with technology, the cyberbullies and cyberstalkers are beginning to feel the ramifications of the criminal actions they commit while hiding behind all those computer screens.

 

 

About the Author:

J. David Haskin is an Attorney practicing in Marietta, Georgia and the Greater Atlanta area.

Leave a Reply