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Man charged in California cyberstalking case

Man charged in California cyberstalking case


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A mere three weeks after California passed a law against cyberstalking, Gary Dellapenta is charged with using the Internet to solicit the rape of a woman who had rejected his advances. Dellapenta terrorized a North Hollywood woman by placing ads in her name that claimed she had rape fantasies and provided her address and instructions for disarming her security system. At least six men saw the Internet ads and came to the woman’s home. Many more called with obscene messages.

On January 1, 1999, California had become the first state to ban cyberstalking, or stalking that involves electronic communications. Dellapenta went afoul of the new law by using the Internet to get back at the woman who had repeatedly rejected his romantic interest in her.

At first the woman had no idea why men were banging on her door in the middle of the night saying that they were there to rape her. When she finally learned about the Internet ads, she placed notes on her door explaining that the ads were false. However, Dellapenta then placed new ads saying that the notes were part of the fantasy. He was caught when the victim’s father pretended to respond to the ads and traced their origin.

In April, Dellapenta pleaded guilty to one count of stalking and three counts of solicitation of sexual assault and received a six-year prison sentence.


Cyberstalking

The messages were relentless. A California woman couldn’t escape the barrage of malicious texts, phone calls, and social media posts originating from a mysterious individual with whom she had no previous connection.

The harassment didn’t stop until the FBI intervened and uncovered a trail of threats and extortion that led to a Miami college student—who is now behind bars for cyberstalking.

“An unwanted relationship was being pushed on a victim who ultimately felt terrorized by an obsessed individual she didn’t even know,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi Anton, who supported the FBI during the investigation. “The constant intimidation was destroying her life, to the point where she could barely function at work and considered suicide.”

The perpetrator, Kassandra Cruz, was completing her criminal justice degree at Florida International University and spent countless hours behind the computer between her studies. In June 2015, she became fixated on a woman she found on a pornography website and tracked down the actress through her social media accounts.

“The victim was an 18-year-old high school student at the time looking for ways to get ahead in life. She made a bad decision trying out pornography,” said Special Agent George Nau, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Miami Field Office. “It was something she kept hidden from her family and employers. She didn’t realize her past would come back to haunt her 15 years later.”

Cruz gained access to two of the victim’s social media feeds by creating a fake persona of an attractive male U.S. Marine named Giovanni and sending friend requests. The former adult film actress accepted, and Giovanni began liking and commenting on almost every picture she shared. But the victim’s suspicions began to mount in September 2015, when Giovanni started to follow and like the her friends’ posts as well.

By the end of the summer, Cruz’s fake profiles were blocked, which angered her. She resorted to harassment and often violent threats, which were aimed not only at the victim but also her friends and family. Included in Cruz’s messages were a plot to expose the victim’s hidden past making adult films as well as demands to be paid $100,000 in return for leaving the victim alone.


“People need to think about what they’re doing online. If you commit a crime, you can be found.”

Jeffrey Reising, special agent, FBI Baltimore

The online stalking evolved into in-person harassment when Yung began posting ads online for men interested in sex to go to the victim’s home, where one man who responded to the ad was intercepted by local police. Yung also posted advertisements on prostitution websites, directing prostitutes to the victim’s home.

The stalking went on for 18 months, causing significant trauma to the victim and his family.

“When I met the victims, they were always on code red, on high alert for their safety,” Reising said. “You can’t live like that long-term. Code yellow is okay, but you can’t live your whole life in fear of the doorbell or phone ringing.”

Working with local police as well as the victim’s law school, the ads were traced back to Yung’s roommate’s computer in Texas. The local police asked for the FBI’s assistance since the case spanned multiple states and jurisdictions. The FBI and U.S. Attorney for Delaware obtained records that connected the posts to Yung, though he had used his roommate’s Internet access and his workplace computer to attempt to hide what he was doing.

Yung pleaded guilty to cyberstalking charges in October 2018. In February 2019, he was sentenced to 46 months in prison—a hefty sentence for a cyberstalking charge.

With cyberstalking becoming a widespread issue across the country, Reising said it’s important to know that it is a crime, and victims should not be afraid to seek help.

“If someone’s mean to you on a social media forum, that’s not a crime,” Reising said. “But if you’re being threatened, if you’re afraid to go out, and you’re changing your daily routine because of cyberstalking, that should be reported to law enforcement.”

Reising said victims of cyberstalking should keep thorough records of the stalking and should contact their state or local police or the FBI.

“A lot of the cases I see center on this basic idea that people think they’re invisible on the Internet, and they think they can do whatever they want,” Reising said. “People need to think about what they’re doing online. If you commit a crime, you can be found.”


Covina Man Arrested on Federal Charge Alleging He Cyberstalked and Threatened Violence Against Teenage Girls via Social Media

LOS ANGELES – Special agents with the FBI this morning arrested a San Gabriel Valley man and online promoter of the involuntary celibate (incel) subculture on a federal cyberstalking charge that he conducted an internet harassment campaign against two teenage girls who rejected his sexual advances.

Carl Bennington, 33, of Covina, was arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint unsealed today in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Bennington will remain in federal custody pending the outcome of detention hearing scheduled for Thursday. His arraignment is scheduled for May 11.

The complaint alleges that, from at least February 2016 to March 2020, Bennington repeatedly used various social media accounts to harass young girls and women, including by sending hundreds of messages threatening to commit acts of physical and sexual violence against them if they did not submit to his sexual advances.

Neither victim ever met Bennington in person, according to the complaint. When one of the victims demanded that Bennington stop harassing her, Bennington replied that he was going to kill her and her family.

Social media records show that, in addition to the threatening and harassing messages he sent to young women and girls, Bennington frequently made statements on internet groups promoting incel ideology. According to court documents, incels are persons who are unable to find a willing sex partner. Incel ideology promotes the view that women oppress men and have too much freedom to choose their own sexual partners. The ideology ranges in tone from sad and self-loathing to advocating the “absolute hatred” of women, according to court documents.

The complaint charges Bennington with cyberstalking, a felony offense that carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated this matter.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David T. Ryan of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section.


East Bay men face federal charges on suspicion of cyber-stalking, extorting children into sending explicit images

Two East Bay men have been charged in federal court for allegedly cyberstalking and extorting 11- to 14-year-old children in Northern California and Utah into sending sexually explicit photos and videos on various social media services &mdash some of whom were &ldquoharassed and tormented for months,&rdquo authorities said.

San Francisco police arrested Delaney Tang of Oakland and Vincenz Sison of Concord on Tuesday. They were both taken to Santa Rita Jail, San Francisco police said.

Tang was charged in a criminal complaint in the Northern District of California in San Francisco with solicitation of child pornography and with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking. Sison, who is named as Tang&rsquos co-conspirator, was charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking for his alleged role in contacting and harassing the &ldquovictims to produce more sexually explicit images and videos,&rdquo police said.

Their arrests come months after police said the dean of students at an unnamed San Francisco high school told police in fall 2019 that &ldquoseveral students&rdquo had been extorted on social media for sexually explicit photos and videos. The Police Department&rsquos Internet Crimes Against Children Unit launched an investigation at that time.

Police said investigators discovered that Tang had created dozens of social media accounts on different sites using fake names and fake profile photos. Police said he would allegedly contact &ldquodozens of underage minors&rdquo and start asking for explicit images of the minors. In some cases, police said, Tang would pretend to be a minor in those conversations.

If the minors refused to send images, police said, Tang allegedly managed to locate the victim&rsquos homes or approximate locations using &ldquosoftware or features on some of the social media platforms.&rdquo Police said he would &ldquointimidate and threaten to harm the victims if they did not comply with his requests.&rdquo

&ldquoTang would also allegedly obtain photos of the victims through their friends or acquaintances, and would make the victims believe that he had more compromising photos of them in order to further extort them,&rdquo San Francisco police said.

Police said Tang would also threaten to post the images on social media if they did not supply more, and in &ldquoseveral cases,&rdquo police said, he did publish the explicit images, &ldquowhich were then circulated at the victims&rsquo schools.&rdquo

Officials said, &ldquoTang used Sison to contact and harass the victims to produce more sexually explicit images and videos.&rdquo

Investigators found eight victims in the Bay Area, Northern California and Utah who are 11 to 14 years old. There are at least 13 additional unidentified victims, police said.

&ldquoInvestigators continue to work to locate the unidentified victims,&rdquo police said.

San Francisco police told The Chronicle they are not releasing the name of the &ldquoschools nor the social media platforms at this time as to not compromise the current and potential cases.&rdquo

Investigators with San Francisco police, Homeland Security Investigations, the Oakland Police Department and Contra Costa County&rsquos Internet Crimes Against Children Unit served search warrants at Tang&rsquos and Sison&rsquos homes on Sept. 25.

Officials found devices with sexually explicit photos and videos of the underage victims, police said. Investigators also found a cell phone that had labeled folders with names of victims, along with their explicit images, police said. Images and videos of at least 13 unidentified victims were also in the folders, police said.

Both defendants made their first federal court appearance on Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley. The U.S. Attorney&rsquos Office for the Northern District of California is prosecuting this case.

Police released the social media usernames allegedly used by the defendants &ldquoin order to have any unidentified victims come forward.&rdquo


California Deputy U.S. Marshal Charged With Cyberstalking And Perjury

A federal grand jury in the Central District of California returned an indictment Wednesday charging a Deputy U.S. Marshal with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking, cyberstalking, and perjury.

According to the indictment, Ian R. Diaz, 43, of Brea, California, who serves as a Deputy U.S. Marshal with the U.S. Marshals Service, along with his former wife, who is alleged to be an unindicted co-conspirator, agreed to and did pose as a person with whom Diaz was formerly in a relationship (Jane Doe) and, in that guise, sent to themselves harassing and threatening electronic communications that contained apparent threats to harm Diaz’s former wife solicited and lured men found through Craigslist “personal” advertisements to engage in so-called “rape fantasies” in an attempt to stage a purported sexual assault on Diaz’s former wife and staged one or more hoax sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults on Diaz’s former wife.

Diaz and his then-wife then reported this conduct to local law enforcement, falsely claiming that Jane Doe posed a genuine and serious threat to Diaz and his then-wife, and thereby caused local law enforcement to arrest, charge, and ultimately detain Jane Doe in jail for nearly three months for conduct for which they framed her and in fact perpetrated themselves.

According to the indictment, Diaz and his former wife also allegedly took steps to conceal their conduct, including using falsely registered email accounts, using virtual private networks to access the internet anonymously, and communicating with each another using encrypted messaging services.

Diaz is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking, one count of cyberstalking, and one count of perjury for his false testimony in a deposition in connection with a federal civil lawsuit brought by Jane Doe. The defendant was arrested Thursday and made his initial court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas F. McCormick of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each of the counts. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge Keith A. Bonanno of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Cyber Investigations Office made the announcement.

The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is investigating the case.

Senior Litigation Counsel Marco A. Palmieri and Trial Attorney Rebecca G. Ross of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Senior Trial Attorney Mona Sedky of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section are prosecuting the case.


Contents

There have been a number of attempts by experts and legislators to define cyberstalking. It is generally understood to be the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group, or an organization. [1] Cyberstalking is a form of cyberbullying the terms are often used interchangeably in the media. Both may include false accusations, defamation, slander and libel. [2] Cyberstalking may also include monitoring, identity theft, threats, vandalism, solicitation for sex, or gathering information that may be used to threaten or harass. Cyberstalking is often accompanied by real-time or offline stalking. [2] Both forms of stalking may be criminal offenses. [3]

Stalking is a continuous process, consisting of a series of actions, each of which may be entirely legal in itself. Technology ethics professor Lambèr Royakkers defines cyberstalking as perpetrated by someone without a current relationship with the victim. About the abusive effects of cyberstalking, he writes that:

[Stalking] is a form of mental assault, in which the perpetrator repeatedly, unwantedly, and disruptively breaks into the life-world of the victim, with whom he has no relationship (or no longer has), with motives that are directly or indirectly traceable to the affective sphere. Moreover, the separated acts that make up the intrusion cannot by themselves cause the mental abuse, but do taken together (cumulative effect). [5]

Distinguishing cyberstalking from other acts

It is important [ according to whom? ] to draw a distinction between cyber-trolling and cyber-stalking. Research has shown that actions that can be perceived to be harmless as a one-off can be considered to be trolling, whereas if it is part of a persistent campaign then it can be considered stalking.

TM Motive Mode Gravity Description
1 Playtime Cyber-bantering Cyber-trolling In the moment and quickly regret
2 Tactical Cyber-trickery Cyber-trolling In the moment but don’t regret and continue
3 Strategic Cyber-bullying Cyber-stalking Go out of way to cause problems, but without a sustained and planned long-term campaign
4 Domination Cyber-hickery Cyber-stalking Goes out of the way to create rich media to target one or more specific individuals

Cyberstalking author Alexis Moore separates cyberstalking from identity theft, which is financially motivated. [6] Her definition, which was also used by the Republic of the Philippines in their legal description, is as follows: [7]

  1. harassment, embarrassment and humiliation of the victim
  2. emptying bank accounts or other economic control such as ruining the victim's credit score
  3. harassing family, friends and employers to isolate the victim
  4. scare tactics to instill fear and more [6]

Identification and detection

CyberAngels has written about how to identify cyberstalking: [8]

When identifying cyberstalking "in the field," and particularly when considering whether to report it to any kind of legal authority, the following features or combination of features can be considered to characterize a true stalking situation: malice, premeditation, repetition, distress, obsession, vendetta, no legitimate purpose, personally directed, disregarded warnings to stop, harassment and threats.

A number of key factors have been identified in cyberstalking:

    : Many cyberstalkers try to damage the reputation of their victim and turn other people against them. They post false information about them on websites. They may set up their own websites, blogs or user pages for this purpose. They post allegations about the victim to newsgroups, chat rooms, or other sites that allow public contributions such as Wikipedia or Amazon.com. [9]
  • Attempts to gather information about the victim: Cyberstalkers may approach their victim's friends, family and work colleagues to obtain personal information. They may advertise for information on the Internet, or hire a private detective. [10]
  • Monitoring their target's online activities and attempting to trace their IP address in an effort to gather more information about their victims. [11]
  • Encouraging others to harass the victim: Many cyberstalkers try to involve third parties in the harassment. They may claim the victim has harmed the stalker or his/her family in some way, or may post the victim's name and telephone number in order to encourage others to join the pursuit. : The cyberstalker will claim that the victim is harassing him or her. Bocij writes that this phenomenon has been noted in a number of well-known cases. [12]
  • Attacks on data and equipment: They may try to damage the victim's computer by sending viruses.
  • Ordering goods and services: They order items or subscribe to magazines in the victim's name. These often involve subscriptions to pornography or ordering sex toys then having them delivered to the victim's workplace.
  • Arranging to meet: Young people face a particularly high risk of having cyberstalkers try to set up meetings between them. [12]
  • The posting of defamatory or derogatory statements: Using web pages and message boards to incite some response or reaction from their victim. [13]

According to Law Enforcement Technology, cyberstalking has increased exponentially [ failed verification ] with the growth of new technology and new ways to stalk victims. "Disgruntled employees pose as their bosses to post explicit messages on social network sites spouses use GPS to track their mates' every move. Even police and prosecutors find themselves at risk, as gang members and other organized criminals find out where they live — often to intimidate them into dropping a case." [14]

In January 2009, the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the United States released the study "Stalking Victimization in the United States," which was sponsored by the Office on Violence Against Women. The report, based on supplemental data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, showed that one in four stalking victims had been cyberstalked as well, with the perpetrators using internet-based services such as email, instant messaging, GPS, or spyware. The final report stated that approximately 1.2 million victims had stalkers who used technology to find them. [14] The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), in Washington D.C. has released statistics that there are 3.4 million stalking victims each year in the United States. Of those, one in four reported experiencing cyberstalking. [15]

According to Robin M. Kowalski, a social psychologist at Clemson University, cyberbullying has been shown to cause higher levels of anxiety and depression for victims than normal bullying. Kowalksi states that much of this stems from the anonymity of the perpetrators, which is a common feature of cyberstalking as well. According to a study by Kowalksi, of 3,700 bullied middle-school students, a quarter had been subjected to a form of online harassment. [16]

Stalking by strangers

According to Joey Rushing, a District Attorney of Franklin County, Alabama, there is no single definition of a cyberstalker - they can be either strangers to the victim or have a former/present relationship. "[Cyberstalkers] come in all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. They patrol Web sites looking for an opportunity to take advantage of people." [15]

Gender-based stalking

Harassment and stalking because of gender online, also known as online gender-based violence, is common, and can include rape threats [17] and other threats of violence, as well as the posting of the victim's personal information. [18] It is blamed for limiting victims' activities online or driving them offline entirely, thereby impeding their participation in online life and undermining their autonomy, dignity, identity, and opportunities. [19]

Of intimate partners

Cyberstalking of intimate partners is the online harassment of a current or former romantic partner. It is a form of domestic violence, and experts say its purpose is to control the victim in order to encourage social isolation and create dependency. Harassers may send repeated insulting or threatening e-mails to their victims, monitor or disrupt their victims' e-mail use, and use the victim's account to send e-mails to others posing as the victim or to purchase goods or services the victim does not want. They may also use the Internet to research and compile personal information about the victim, to use in order to harass him or her. [20]

Of celebrities and public persons

Profiling of stalkers shows that almost always they stalk someone they know or, via delusion, think they know, as is the case with stalkers of celebrities or public persons in which the stalkers feel they know the celebrity even though the celebrity does not know them. [21] As part of the risk they take for being in the public eye, celebrities and public figures are often targets of lies or made-up stories in tabloids as well as by stalkers, some even seeming to be fans.

In one noted case in 2011, actress Patricia Arquette quit Facebook after alleged cyberstalking. In her last post, Arquette explained that her security warned her Facebook friends to never accept friend requests from people they do not actually know. Arquette stressed that just because people seemed to be fans did not mean they were safe. The media issued a statement that Arquette planned to communicate with fans exclusively through her Twitter account in the future. [22]

By anonymous online mobs

Web 2.0 technologies have enabled online groups of anonymous people to self-organize to target individuals with online defamation, threats of violence and technology-based attacks. These include publishing lies and doctored photographs, threats of rape and other violence, posting sensitive personal information about victims, e-mailing damaging statements about victims to their employers, and manipulating search engines to make damaging material about the victim more prominent. [23] Victims frequently respond by adopting pseudonyms or going offline entirely. [24]

Experts attribute the destructive nature of anonymous online mobs to group dynamics, saying that groups with homogeneous views tend to become more extreme. As members reinforce each others' beliefs, they fail to see themselves as individuals and lose a sense of personal responsibility for their destructive acts. In doing so they dehumanize their victims, becoming more aggressive when they believe they are supported by authority figures. Internet service providers and website owners are sometimes blamed for not speaking out against this type of harassment. [24]

A notable example of online mob harassment was the experience of American software developer and blogger Kathy Sierra. In 2007 a group of anonymous individuals attacked Sierra, threatening her with rape and strangulation, publishing her home address and Social Security number, and posting doctored photographs of her. Frightened, Sierra cancelled her speaking engagements and shut down her blog, writing "I will never feel the same. I will never be the same." [24]

Corporate cyberstalking

Corporate cyberstalking is when a company harasses an individual online, or an individual or group of individuals harasses an organization. [25] Motives for corporate cyberstalking are ideological, or include a desire for financial gain or revenge. [25]

Motives and profile

Mental profiling of digital criminals has identified psychological and social factors that motivate stalkers as: envy pathological obsession (professional or sexual) unemployment or failure with own job or life intention to intimidate and cause others to feel inferior the stalker is delusional and believes he/she "knows" the target the stalker wants to instill fear in a person to justify his/her status belief they can get away with it (anonymity) intimidation for financial advantage or business competition revenge over perceived or imagined rejection. [26] [27]

Four types of cyberstalkers

Preliminary work by Leroy McFarlane and Paul Bocij has identified four types of cyberstalkers: the vindictive cyberstalkers noted for the ferocity of their attacks the composed cyberstalker whose motive is to annoy the intimate cyberstalker who attempts to form a relationship with the victim but turns on them if rebuffed and collective cyberstalkers, groups with a motive. [28] According to Antonio Chacón Medina, author of Una nueva cara de Internet, El acoso ("A new face of the Internet: stalking"), the general profile of the harasser is cold, with little or no respect for others. The stalker is a predator who can wait patiently until vulnerable victims appear, such as women or children, or may enjoy pursuing a particular person, whether personally familiar to them or unknown. The harasser enjoys and demonstrates their power to pursue and psychologically damage the victim. [29]

Behaviors

Cyberstalkers find their victims by using search engines, online forums, bulletin and discussion boards, chat rooms, and more recently, through social networking sites, [30] such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Friendster, Twitter, and Indymedia, a media outlet known for self-publishing. They may engage in live chat harassment or flaming or they may send electronic viruses and unsolicited e-mails. [31] Cyberstalkers may research individuals to feed their obsessions and curiosity. Conversely, the acts of cyberstalkers may become more intense, such as repeatedly instant messaging their targets. [32] More commonly they will post defamatory or derogatory statements about their stalking target on web pages, message boards, and in guest books designed to get a reaction or response from their victim, thereby initiating contact. [31] In some cases, they have been known to create fake blogs in the name of the victim containing defamatory or pornographic content.

When prosecuted, many stalkers have unsuccessfully attempted to justify their behavior based on their use of public forums, as opposed to direct contact. Once they get a reaction from the victim, they will typically attempt to track or follow the victim's internet activity. Classic cyberstalking behavior includes the tracing of the victim's IP address in an attempt to verify their home or place of employment. [31] Some cyberstalking situations do evolve into physical stalking, and a victim may experience abusive and excessive phone calls, vandalism, threatening or obscene mail, trespassing, and physical assault. [31] Moreover, many physical stalkers will use cyberstalking as another method of harassing their victims. [33] [34]

A 2007 study led by Paige Padgett from the University of Texas Health Science Center found that there was a false degree of safety assumed by women looking for love online. [35] [36]

Legislation on cyberstalking varies from country to country. Cyberstalking and cyberbullying are relatively new phenomena, but that does not mean that crimes committed through the network are not punishable under legislation drafted for that purpose. Although there are often existing laws that prohibit stalking or harassment in a general sense, legislators sometimes believe that such laws are inadequate or do not go far enough, and thus bring forward new legislation to address this perceived shortcoming. The point overlooked is that enforcing these laws can be a challenge in these virtual communities. The reason being, these issues are very unique to law enforcement agencies who have never faced cases related to cyberstalking. [37] In the United States, for example, nearly every state has laws that address cyberstalking, cyberbullying, or both. [38]

In countries such as the US, in practice, there is little legislative difference between the concepts of "cyberbullying" and "cyberstalking." The primary distinction is one of age if adults are involved, the act is usually termed cyberstalking, while among children it is usually referred to as cyberbullying. However, as there have not been any formal definitions of the terms, this distinction is one of semantics and many laws treat bullying and stalking as much the same issue. [39]

Australia

In Australia, the Stalking Amendment Act (1999) includes the use of any form of technology to harass a target as forms of "criminal stalking."

Canada

In 2012, there was a high-profile investigation into the death of Amanda Todd, a young Canadian student who had been blackmailed and stalked online before committing suicide. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were criticized in the media for not naming one of her alleged stalkers as a person of interest. [40]

Philippines

In the Fifteenth Congress of the Republic of the Philippines, a cyberstalking bill was introduced by Senator Manny Villar. The result was to "urge the Senate Committees on Science and Technology, and Public Information and Mass Media to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the increasing occurrence of cyber stalking cases and the modus operandi adopted in the internet to perpetuate crimes with the end in view of formulating legislation and policy measures geared towards curbing cyber stalking and other cyber crimes and protect online users in the country." [7]

United States

History, current legislation

Cyberstalking is a criminal offense under American anti-stalking, slander, and harassment laws.

A conviction can result in a restraining order, probation, or criminal penalties against the assailant, including jail. [41] Cyberstalking specifically has been addressed in recent U.S. federal law. For example, the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 2000, made cyberstalking a part of the federal interstate stalking statute. [31] The current US Federal Anti-Cyber-Stalking law is found at 47 U.S.C. § 223. [42]

Still, there remains a lack of federal legislation to specifically address cyberstalking, leaving the majority of legislative at the state level. [31] A few states have both stalking and harassment statutes that criminalize threatening and unwanted electronic communications. [43] The first anti-stalking law was enacted in California in 1990, and while all fifty states soon passed anti-stalking laws, by 2009 only 14 of them had laws specifically addressing "high-tech stalking." [14] The first U.S. cyberstalking law went into effect in 1999 in California. [44] Other states have laws other than harassment or anti-stalking statutes that prohibit misuse of computer communications and e-mail, while others have passed laws containing broad language that can be interpreted to include cyberstalking behaviors, such as in their harassment or stalking legislation. [ citation needed ]

Sentences can range from 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine for a fourth-degree charge to ten years in prison and a $150,000 fine for a second-degree charge. [45]

    , Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, and New York have included prohibitions against harassing electronic, computer or e-mail communications in their harassment legislation. , Florida, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and California, have incorporated electronically communicated statements as conduct constituting stalking in their anti-stalking laws. enacted the Stalking by Electronic Communications Act, 2001. revised its state harassment statutes to include stalking and harassment by telephone and electronic communications (as well as cyber-bullying) after the Megan Meier suicide case of 2006. In one of the few cases where a cyberstalking conviction was obtained the cyberstalker was a woman, which is also much rarer that male cyberstalkers. [46] The conviction was overturned in on appeal in 2009 however. [47]
  • In Florida, HB 479 was introduced in 2003 to ban cyberstalking. This was signed into law on October 2003. [48]

Age, legal limitations

While some laws only address online harassment of children, there are laws that protect adult cyberstalking victims. While some sites specialize in laws that protect victims age 18 and under, current and pending cyberstalking-related United States federal and state laws offer help to victims of all ages. [49]

Most stalking laws require that the perpetrator make a credible threat of violence against the victim others include threats against the victim's immediate family and still others require the alleged stalker's course of conduct constitute an implied threat. While some conduct involving annoying or menacing behavior might fall short of illegal stalking, such behavior may be a prelude to stalking and violence and should be treated seriously. [50]

Online identity stealth blurs the line on infringement of the rights of would-be victims to identify their perpetrators. There is a debate on how internet use can be traced without infringing on protected civil liberties. [ citation needed ]

Specific cases

There have been a number of high-profile legal cases in the United States related to cyberstalking, many of which have involved the suicides of young students. [16] [51] In thousands of other cases, charges either were not brought for the cyber harassment or were unsuccessful in obtaining convictions. [52] As in all legal instances, much depends on public sympathy towards the victim, the quality of legal representation and other factors that can greatly influence the outcome of the crime – even if it will be considered a crime. [53]

In the case of a fourteen-year-old student in Michigan, for instance, she pressed charges against her alleged rapist, which resulted in her being cyberstalked and cyberbullied by fellow students. After her suicide in 2010 all charges were dropped against the man who allegedly raped her, on the basis that the only witness was dead. This is the despite the fact that statutory rape charges could have been pressed. [54]

In another case of cyberstalking, college student Dharun Ravi secretly filmed his roommate's sexual liaison with another man, then posted it online. After the victim committed suicide, [55] Ravi was convicted in of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy in New Jersey v. Dharun Ravi. In 2012 he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, more than $11,000 in restitution and three years of probation. The judge ruled that he believes Ravi acted out of "colossal insensitivity, not hatred." [56]


Federal agent charged in cyberstalking plot against ex-lover

A deputy U.S. marshal was charged in a cyberstalking scheme that authorities said he perpetrated with his ex-wife to have a former lover thrown in jail, the Justice Department said Friday.

Ian Diaz, 43, is accused of working with his then-wife to create fake online profiles in 2016 to pose as a woman with whom Diaz had previously been in a relationship, according to federal prosecutors. The couple used the phony accounts, posing as the former lover, to send themselves threatening and harassing messages, including threats to harm Diaz’s wife, prosecutors allege.

The couple also posted advertisements on Craigslist in an attempt to lure men to be part of so-called “rape fantasies,” prosecutors said. The posts directed them to come to the Diaz’s home in Anaheim, California, in what prosecutors say was an attempt to stage a sexual assault of Diaz’s former wife and then blame the ads on his ex-lover.

Prosecutors say the two had “staged one or more hoax sexual assaults and hoax attempted sexual assaults.” They then called the police and asked that officers arrest the former lover, showing investigators the emails and saying they were written by the woman, according to court documents.

The couple reported the threats and postings — that prosecutors say they made themselves — to local law enforcement officers. Diaz’s former lover was arrested and charged with making the threats and was held in jail for almost three months “for conduct for which they framed her and in fact perpetrated themselves,” prosecutors allege.

Ian Diaz was arrested Thursday after being charged with cyberstalking, conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and perjury. An attorney who represented him in a related civil case did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. His former wife was not charged in the indictment.

The couple tried to conceal their actions using virtual private networks and encrypted messaging services, according to the indictment.

Diaz, who has worked as a criminal investigator since 2010 in Los Angeles, has been placed on administrative leave and relieved of his duties, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement.

“We take seriously any allegation of misconduct by our personnel,” the statement said. “The alleged actions of this employee do not reflect the core values of the U.S. Marshals Service.”

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California man who cyber-stalked Parkland victims' families, friends gets 66-month sentence

A California man convicted in connection with sending threatening messages to families and friends of victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was sentenced to prison on Monday.

Brandon Michael Fleury, 22, of Santa Ana, California, was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison for cyberstalking and sending a kidnapping threat on social media, Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office announced Monday.

A criminal complaint filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida says that Fleury, who is on the autism spectrum, used Instagram to harass or "troll" whom he considered to be activists with a heavy online presence. He was arrested and charged last January.

In the criminal complaint, Fleury admitted to creating thirteen Instagram profiles to bypass the company's bullying policy. Instagram removes content that contain credible threats, according to the its community guidelines.

FILE- In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school. A California man who is on the autism spectrum was sentenced Monday, March 2, 2020, to more than five years in prison for cyberstalking families of Parkland, Florida, school shooting victims. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) ORG XMIT: NYHK107 (Photo: Wilfredo Lee, AP)

Fleury targeted several people tied to victims of former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Nikolas Cruz's shooting rampage on February 14, 2018 that left 17 students dead.

Most were tagged in messages posted from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 11, 2019 under account names like @nikolas.killed.your.sister and @angie.and.lola.

Jesse Guttenberg, whose sister, Jamie, died in the shooting, received direct taunts from Fleury, including, "I took Jaime away from you. You'll never see her again hahaha,'' and "With the power of my AR-15, l erased their existence."


California Man Arrested For Cyberstalking Family And Friends Of Parkland Massacre Victims

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) &ndash Newly obtained court documents show even more heartache and misery being quietly endured by the loved one of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The FBI says that over a nearly three week period at the end of December and beginning of January, a California man repeatedly harassed and even threatened several of the families of the Parkland shooting victims over social media.

According to a federal criminal complaint filed in South Florida, Brandon Fleury is facing charges of harassing and threatening them using Instagram. Specifically, &rdquoOne post threatened to kidnap&rdquo the recipients of the social media posts while other messages harassed recipients by “repeatedly taunting the relatives and friends of the MSD victims, cheering the deaths of their loved ones and, among other things, asking them to cry.&rdquo

The shooting at MSD occurred last Valentine&rsquos Day and took the lives of 17 students and staff members and left 17 others injured.

The criminal complaint makes clear that some of the messages were sent to the family of victim Jaime Guttenberg. Other posts were directed at victim Scott Beigel, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was shot after saving the lives of some of his students by quickly ushering them into his classroom. CBS 4 News spoke by phone with his mother, Linda Beigel Schulman.

&ldquoIt makes me angry,&rdquo she said. &ldquoIt really makes me angry. It doesn&rsquot make me sad. It just makes me angry.&rdquo

Some of the posts included the following comments:

&ldquoI&rsquom a murderer. It&rsquos what I do, fool&rdquo

&ldquoNikolas killed your loved ones, huh?” referring to the confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz.

Another post on Christmas Day read &ldquoI&rsquom your abductor I&rsquom kidnapping you fool.&rdquo The FBI wrote in the criminal complaint that the post &ldquoplaced the families in fear.&rdquo

Many of the other posts are too disturbing or disgusting to mention. The FBI also writes that some of the posts came from an Instagram account that directly referenced Cruz and his actions last February 14. The feds say the suspect admitted &ldquoposting the messages in an attempt to taunt or &lsquotroll&rsquo the victims and gain popularity&rdquo and &ldquoadmitted to targeting family members who were &lsquoactivists&rsquo who had a large social media presence.&rdquo The complaint also says Fleury showed no remorse for his actions but said he didn&rsquot plan to act on his words.

Linda Beigel Schulman believes cases this one show why law enforcement should be able to check someone&rsquos social media history before they own a firearm.

&ldquoThey need to be able to go and check his social media and check whoever it is and see that they have issues and this person should never, ever be able to own a gun,&rdquo she said.

CBS4 News spoke briefly with Fred Guttenberg. He said he&rsquos grateful this situation was handled by the authorities and he couldn&rsquot comment further.

Court records show that the suspect was arrested in central California and he&rsquos due in court in Fort Lauderdale next Monday.


Pasadena man pleads guilty to cyberstalking, faces 30-year maximum

LOS ANGELES — A Pasadena man pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges for using the internet to stalk and threaten to injure, rape or kill women who refused to date him.

Sam Hughes, 31, faces a total maximum of 30 years’ imprisonment on the felony charges of stalking, witness tampering and making threats by interstate communication when he is sentenced March 1, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hughes’ plea agreement states that the United Kingdom citizen will be deported from the United States.

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles handed down a 26-count indictment in August charging Hughes with multiple counts of stalking, making online threats, mailing threatening communications, and witness tampering.

The self-described information technology worker and astronomer — sometimes using his real name, and other times using aliases or social media accounts — sent his victims communications in which he expressed hope they would die or in which he made specific threats to harm them.

For example, a year ago, after one victim reported prior threats to law enforcement authorities, Hughes sent her an email stating in part that someone “will come out and first bash you head in, rape you slash your throat and burn your car and house,” according to court papers.

Hughes sent another threat that read in part: “I will rip your … throat out and stab you in the eyes and put gasoline over your half mutilated body.”

Federal prosecutors said he used nearly 10 online aliases and handles.

The FBI began investigating him in May 2019 after a victim filed a complaint with the Internet Crimes Complaint Center.

“The threatening communications sent by Hughes to the victims were direct, graphic and disturbing in nature, including statements such as: ‘I am coming to get you, I will enjoy every moment of killing you’ and ‘I can guarantee you will die soon at my mercy,’” prosecutors stated in court documents.

After being contacted by both the FBI and state law enforcement officers, “Hughes continued to send electronic communications and letters threatening to injure, rape or kill at least three of the victims who had reported his threats to the police,” according to the criminal complaint filed in the case. “In his communications to some victims, Hughes threatened that contacting the police would lead to the injury or death of the victim or the victims’ loved ones.”

As a result of separate investigations, Hughes was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Pasadena Police Department on two occasions in June, which resulted in charges being filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the Pasadena City Attorney’s Office.

Hughes posted an eight-minute video of one of his contacts with Pasadena police on YouTube last year.

Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Hughes on July 10, and he was taken into custody from state authorities two weeks later. Hughes has been in federal custody since then.

The stalking count and the charges stemming from the alleged threats both carry a maximum penalty of up to five years in federal prison. The witness tampering count carries a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison.


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