A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry
         A Report from the Attorney General to the Vice President
                                August 1999


The new millennium is fast approaching, and the information superhighway is
undergoing rapid growth. The Internet and other telecommunications
technologies are promoting advances in virtually every aspect of society
and every corner of the globe: fostering commerce, improving education and
health care, promoting participatory democracy in the United States and
abroad, and facilitating communications among family and friends, whether
across the street or around the world. Unfortunately, many of the
attributes of this technology - low cost, ease of use, and anonymous
nature, among others - make it an attractive medium for fraudulent scams,
child sexual exploitation, and increasingly, a new concern known as

   "Make no mistake: this kind of harassment can be as frightening and as
    real as being followed and watched in your neighborhood or in your
     --   Vice President Al Gore

Recognizing this emerging problem, Vice President Al Gore asked the
Attorney General on February 26, 1999, to study the problem and to report
back with recommendations on how to protect people from this threat.
Responding to this request, this report explores the nature and extent of
cyberstalking; surveys the steps law enforcement, industry, victims groups,
and others currently are taking to address the problem; analyzes the
adequacy of current federal and state laws; and provides recommendations on
how to improve efforts to combat this growing problem. 

As discussed below, the nature and extent of the cyberstalking problem is
difficult to quantify. In addition, while some law enforcement agencies are
responding aggressively, others are not fully aware of the problem and lack
the expertise and resources to pursue cyberstalking cases. Similarly, while
some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have taken affirmative steps to
crack down on cyberstalking, others have not, and there is a great deal
more that industry can and should do to empower individuals to protect
themselves against cyberstalking and other online threats. 

Indeed, current trends and evidence suggest that cyberstalking is a serious
problem that will grow in scope and complexity as more people take
advantage of the Internet and other telecommunications technologies. The
analysis and recommendations contained in this report offer a framework for
an initial response to the problem. These recommendations, however, are
only a first step. Important advances can be made if industry, law
enforcement, victims service providers and support groups, and others work
together to develop a more comprehensive and effective response to this
problem. Ultimately, however, the first line of defense will involve
industry efforts that educate and empower individuals to protect themselves
against cyberstalking and other online threats, along with prompt reporting
to law enforcement agencies trained and equipped to respond to
cyberstalking incidents. 

What Is Cyberstalking? 

Although there is no universally accepted definition of cyberstalking, the
term is used in this report to refer to the use of the Internet, e-mail, or
other electronic communications devices to stalk another person. Stalking
generally involves harassing or threatening behavior that an individual
engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person's
home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written
messages or objects, or vandalizing a person's property. 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 only that the alleged stalker's course of conduct
constitute an implied threat.(1) 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.   

Protecting Children from On-Line Dangers

Although the Internet and other forms of electronic communication offer new
and exciting opportunities for children, they also expose children to new
threats. For example, Federal law enforcement agencies have encountered
numerous instances in which adult pedophiles have made contact with minors
through online chat rooms, established a relationship with the child, and
later made contact for the purpose of engaging in criminal sexual

Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have responded
aggressively to protect children from online sexual predators. For example,
in 1995, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an undercover
initiative, dubbed Innocent Images, to combat the exploitation of children
via commercial online services. Based in Calverton, Maryland, "Innocent
Images" is the central operation and case management system for all FBI
undercover online child pornography and child sexual exploitation
investigations. As of December 31, 1998, the initiative has resulted in 232
convictions. Similarly, the U.S. Customs Service's CyberSmuggling Center,
based in Sterling, Virginia, plays an important role in combating sexual
exploitation of children via the Internet and other online communications
media. The Center develops leads and tips for law enforcement
investigation, receives complaints via the U.S. Customs Service website,
and coordinates undercover operations against international child
pornography and child sexual exploitation rings. The National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children unveiled a new CyberTipline in March 1998 to
serve as a national online clearinghouse for tips and leads about child
sexual exploitation.www.cybertipline.com)  

The Department of Justice, through the Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention's Missing and Exploited Children Program (MECP),
provides funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to create
multijurisdictional responses to prevent and combat Internet crimes against
children. In 1998, ten state and local agencies received grants under MECP;
an additional eight task forces will be funded in 1999.  

There are steps parents and others can take to protect children from online
dangers. Parents should teach their children to follow the common-sense
"rules of the road" for the Internet, including the need to protect their
privacy in the online world. The FBI, for example, has prepared an online
"Parent's Guide to Internet Safety." (www.fbi.gov) Moreover, individuals
should report inappropriate behavior to their Internet Service Provider
(ISP) or, if it involves potentially illegal conduct, to appropriate law
enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agencies need to establish and/or
improve programs that train their personnel to recognize the seriousness of
online child sexual exploitation and how to investigate this new form of
criminal conduct. They also need to work closely with ISPs and others to
facilitate communication and cooperation. Finally, private companies,
including ISPs, need to provide parents and children with effective tools
to protect children from online exploitation, including filtering
technology, parental controls, and other efforts. ISPs also need to
establish clear policies that prohibit online solicitation or exploitation
of children and to take appropriate action when such incidents come to
their attention, as is now required under federal law. See U.S.C. 13032.  

Nature and Extent of Cyberstalking 

An existing problem aggravated by new technology 

Although online harassment and threats can take many forms, cyberstalking
shares important characteristics with offline stalking. Many stalkers -
online or off - are motivated by a desire to exert control over their
victims and engage in similar types of behavior to accomplish this end. As
with offline stalking, the available evidence (which is largely anecdotal)
suggests that the majority of cyberstalkers are men and the majority of
their victims are women, although there have been reported cases of women
cyberstalking men and of same-sex cyberstalking. In many cases, the
cyberstalker and the victim had a prior relationship, and the cyberstalking
begins when the victim attempts to break off the relationship. However,
there also have been many instances of cyberstalking by strangers. Given
the enormous amount of personal information available through the Internet,
a cyberstalker can easily locate private information about a potential
victim with a few mouse clicks or key strokes. 

The fact that cyberstalking does not involve physical contact may create
the misperception that it is more benign than physical stalking. This is
not necessarily true. As the Internet becomes an ever more integral part of
our personal and professional lives, stalkers can take advantage of the
ease of communications as well as increased access to personal information.
In addition, the ease of use and non-confrontational, impersonal, and
sometimes anonymous nature of Internet communications may remove
disincentives to cyberstalking. Put another way, whereas a potential
stalker may be unwilling or unable to confront a victim in person or on the
telephone, he or she may have little hesitation sending harassing or
threatening electronic communications to a victim. Finally, as with
physical stalking, online harassment and threats may be a prelude to more
serious behavior, including physical violence.

Offline vs. Online Stalking -- A Comparison(2)

Major Similarities  

Majority of cases involve stalking by former intimates, although stranger
stalking occurs in the real world and in cyberspace.  

Most victims are women; most stalkers are men.  

Stalkers are generally motivated by the desire to control the victim.  

Major Differences  

Offline stalking generally requires the perpetrator and the victim to be
located in the same geographic area; cyberstalkers may be located across
the street or across the country.  

Electronic communications technologies make it much easier for a
cyberstalker to encourage third parties to harass and/or threaten a victim
(e.g., impersonating the victim and posting inflammatory messages to
bulletin boards and in chat rooms, causing viewers of that message to send
threatening messages back to the victim "author.")  

Electronic communications technologies also lower the barriers to
harassment and threats; a cyberstalker does not need to physically confront
the victim.  

While there are many similarities between offline and online stalking, the
Internet and other communications technologies provide new avenues for
stalkers to pursue their victims. 

A cyberstalker may send repeated, threatening, or harassing messages by the
simple push of a button; more sophisticated cyberstalkers use programs to
send messages at regular or random intervals without being physically
present at the computer terminal. California law enforcement authorities
say they have encountered situations where a victim repeatedly receives the
message "187" on their pagers - the section of the California Penal Code
for murder. In addition, a cyberstalker can dupe other Internet users into
harassing or threatening a victim by utilizing Internet bulletin boards or
chat rooms. For example, a stalker may post a controversial or enticing
message on the board under the name, phone number, or e-mail address of the
victim, resulting in subsequent responses being sent to the victim. Each
message -- whether from the actual cyberstalker or others -- will have the
intended effect on the victim, but the cyberstalker's effort is minimal and
the lack of direct contact between the cyberstalker and the victim can make
it difficult for law enforcement to identify, locate, and arrest the

Actual Cyberstalking Incidents

In the first successful prosecution under California's new cyberstalking
law, prosecutors in the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office obtained a
guilty plea from a 50-year-old former security guard who used the Internet
to solicit the rape of a woman who rejected his romantic advances. The
defendant terrorized his 28-year-old victim by impersonating her in various
Internet chat rooms and online bulletin boards, where he posted, along with
her telephone number and address, messages that she fantasized of being
raped. On at least six occasions, sometimes in the middle of the night, men
knocked on the woman's door saying they wanted to rape her. The former
security guard pleaded guilty in April 1999 to one count of stalking and
three counts of solicitation of sexual assault. He faces up to six years in

A local prosecutor's office in Massachusetts charged a man who, utilizing
anonymous remailers, allegedly engaged in a systematic pattern of
harassment of a co-worker, which culminated in an attempt to extort sexual
favors from the victim under threat of disclosing past sexual activities to
the victim's new husband.  

An honors graduate from the University of San Diego terrorized five female
university students over the Internet for more than a year. The victims
received hundreds of violent and threatening e-mails, sometimes receiving
four or five messages a day. The graduate student, who has entered a guilty
plea and faces up to six years in prison, told police he committed the
crimes because he thought the women were laughing at him and causing others
to ridicule him. In fact, the victims had never met him.  

The anonymity of the Internet also provides new opportunities for would-be
cyberstalkers. A cyberstalker's true identity can be concealed by using
different ISPs and/or by adopting different screen names. More experienced
stalkers can use anonymous remailers that make it all-but-impossible to
determine the true identity of the source of an e-mail or other electronic
communication. A number of law enforcement agencies report they currently
are confronting cyberstalking cases involving the use of anonymous

Anonymity leaves the cyberstalker in an advantageous position. Unbeknownst
to the target, the perpetrator could be in another state, around the
corner, or in the next cubicle at work. The perpetrator could be a former
friend or lover, a total stranger met in a chat room, or simply a teenager
playing a practical joke. The inability to identify the source of the
harassment or threats could be particularly ominous to a cyberstalking
victim, and the veil of anonymity might encourage the perpetrator to
continue these acts. In addition, some perpetrators, armed with the
knowledge that their identity is unknown, might be more willing to pursue
the victim at work or home, and the Internet can provide substantial
information to this end. Numerous websites will provide personal
information, including unlisted telephone numbers and detailed directions
to a home or office. For a fee, other websites promise to provide social
security numbers, financial data, and other personal information. 

Evidence suggests cyberstalking is a growing problem 

Although there is no comprehensive, nationwide data on the extent of
cyberstalking in the United States, some ISPs compile statistics on the
number and types of complaints of harassment and/or threats involving their
subscribers, and individual law enforcement agencies have compiled helpful
statistics. There is, moreover, a growing amount of anecdotal and informal
evidence on the nature and extent of cyberstalking. 

First, data on offline stalking may provide some insight into the scope of
the cyberstalking problem. According to the most recent National Violence
Against Women Survey, which defines stalking as referring to instances
where the victim felt a high level of fear:(3) 

In the United States, one out of every 12 women (8.2 million) and one out
of every 45 men (2 million) have been stalked at some time in their lives. 
One percent of all women and 0.4 percent of all men were stalked during the
preceding 12 months.  Women are far more likely to be the victims of
stalking than men - nearly four out of five stalking victims are women. Men
are far more likely to be stalkers - 87 percent of the stalkers identified
by victims in the survey were men.  Women are twice as likely as men to be
victims of stalking by strangers and eight times as likely to be victims of
stalking by intimates.  In the United States, there are currently more than
80 million adults and 10 million children with access to the Internet.
Assuming the proportion of cyberstalking victims is even a fraction of the
proportion of persons who have been the victims of offline stalking within
the preceding 12 months, there may be potentially tens or even hundreds of
thousands of victims of recent cyberstalking incidents in the United
States.(4) Although such a "back of the envelope" calculation is inherently
uncertain and speculative (given that it rests on an assumption about very
different populations), it does give a rough sense of the potential
magnitude of the problem.  Second, anecdotal evidence from law enforcement
agencies indicates that cyberstalking is a serious - and growing - problem.
At the federal level, several dozen matters have been referred (usually by
the FBI) to U.S. Attorney's Offices for possible action. A number of these
cases have been referred to state and local law enforcement agencies
because the conduct does not appear to violate federal law. 

In addition, some local law enforcement agencies are beginning to see cases
of cyberstalking. For example, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office
estimates that e-mail or other electronic communications were a factor in
approximately 20 percent of the roughly 600 cases handled by its Stalking
and Threat Assessment Unit. The chief of the Sex Crimes Unit in the
Manhattan District Attorney's Office also estimates that about 20 percent
of the cases handled by the unit involve cyberstalking. The Computer
Investigations and Technology Unit of the New York City Police Department
estimates that almost 40 percent of the caseload in the unit involves
electronic threats and harassment -- and virtually all of these have
occurred in the past three or four years. 

Third, ISPs also are receiving a growing number of complaints about
harassing and threatening behavior online. One major ISP receives
approximately 15 complaints per month of cyberstalking, in comparison to
virtually no complaints of cyberstalking just one or two years ago. 

Finally, as part of a large study on sexual victimization of college women,
researchers at the University of Cincinnati conducted a national telephone
survey of 4,446 randomly selected women attending two- and four-year
institutions of higher education. The survey was conducted during the
1996-97 academic year. In this survey, a stalking incident was defined as a
case in which a respondent answered positively when asked if someone had
"repeatedly followed you, watched you, phoned, written, e-mailed, or
communicated with you in other ways that seemed obsessive and made you
afraid or concerned for your safety." The study found that 581 women (13.1
percent) were stalked and reported a total of 696 stalking incidents; the
latter figure exceeds the number of victims because 15 percent of the women
experienced more than one case of stalking during the survey period. Of
these 696 stalking incidents, 166 (24.7 percent) involved e-mail. Thus, 25
percent of stalking incidents among college women could be classified as
involving cyberstalking.(5) 

Current Efforts to Address Cyberstalking 

The law enforcement response 

Cyberstalking is a relatively new challenge for most law enforcement
agencies. The first traditional stalking law was enacted by the state of
California in 1990 - less than a decade ago. Since that time, some law
enforcement agencies have trained their personnel on stalking and/or
established specialized units to handle stalking cases. Nonetheless, many
agencies are still developing the expertise and resources to investigate
and prosecute traditional stalking cases; only a handful of agencies
throughout the country have focused attention or resources specifically on
the cyberstalking problem.(6) 

Law enforcement response: awareness and training are key factors 

Based on recent informal surveys of law enforcement agencies, it appears
that the majority of agencies have not investigated or prosecuted any
cyberstalking cases. However, some agencies - particularly those with units
dedicated to stalking or computer crime offenses - have large cyberstalking
caseloads. As noted above, the New York Police Department's Computer
Investigation and Technology Unit and the Los Angeles District Attorney's
Stalking and Threat Assessment Team estimate that 40 and 20 percent of
their caseloads, respectively, involve cyberstalking-type cases.   

   "Cyberspace has become a fertile field for illegal activity. By the use
    of new technology and equipment which cannot be policed by traditional
    methods, cyberstalking has replaced traditional methods of stalking and
    harassment. In addition, cyberstalking has led to offline incidents of
    violent crime. Police and prosecutors need to be aware of the
    escalating numbers of these events and devise strategies to resolve
    these problems through the criminal justice system." 
      --  Linda Fairstein  
          Chief of Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit  
          Manhattan District Attorney's Office

The disparity in the activity level among law enforcement agencies can be
attributed to a number of factors. First, it appears that the majority of
cyberstalking victims do not report the conduct to law enforcement, either
because they feel that the conduct has not reached the point of being a
criminal offense or that law enforcement will not take them seriously.
Second, most law enforcement agencies have not had the training to
recognize the serious nature of cyberstalking and to investigate such
offenses. Unfortunately, some victims have reported that rather than open
an investigation, a law enforcement agency has advised them to come back if
the cyberstalkers confront or threaten them offline. In several instances,
victims have been told by law enforcement simply to turn off their

Law Enforcement: Lack of Training and Expertise
Can Frustrate Victims, Hinder Response

A recent incident demonstrates how the lack of law enforcement training and
expertise can frustrate cyberstalking victims: A woman complained to a
local police agency that a man had been posting information on the web
claiming that her nine-year-old daughter was available for sex. The web
posting included their home phone number with instructions to call 24 hours
a day. They received numerous calls. The couple reported the problem to the
local police agency on numerous occasions, but the agency simply advised
the couple to change their home phone number. Subsequently, the couple
contacted the FBI, which opened an investigation. It was discovered that
the local police agency did not have a computer expert, and the
investigative officer had never been on the Internet. The local agency's
lack of familiarity and resources may have resulted in a failure to
understand the seriousness of the problem and the options available to law
enforcement to respond to such problems.  

Another indication that many law enforcement agencies underestimate the
magnitude of the cyberstalking problem is the wide disparity in reported
cases in different jurisdictions across the country. For example, one state
attorney general's office in a midwestern state indicated that it received
approximately one inquiry a week regarding cyberstalking cases and that it
is aware of approximately a dozen prosecutions last year alone. In
contrast, the state attorney general's offices in neighboring states
indicated they have never received an inquiry into this type of behavior.
Although one would generally expect some disparity in differing
jurisdictions, the size of the disparity suggests that some law enforcement
agencies do not have the training or expertise to recognize the magnitude
of the problem in their jurisdictions. 

Law enforcement response: jurisdictional and statutory limitations may
frustrate some agencies 

Some state and local law enforcement agencies also have been frustrated by
jurisdictional limitations. In many instances, the cyberstalker may be
located in a different city or state than the victim making it more
difficult (and, in some cases, all but impossible) for the local authority
to investigate the incident. Even if a law enforcement agency is willing to
pursue a case across state lines, it may be difficult to obtain assistance
from out-of-state agencies when the conduct is limited to harassing e-mail
messages and no actual violence has occurred. A number of matters have been
referred to the FBI and/or U.S. Attorney's offices because the victim and
suspect were located in different states and the local agency was not able
to pursue the investigation. 

The lack of adequate statutory authority also can limit law enforcement's
response to cyberstalking incidents. At least 16 states have stalking
statutes that explicitly cover electronic communications,(7) and
cyberstalking may be covered under general stalking statutes in other
states. It may not, however, meet the statutory definition of stalking in
the remainder. In many cases, cyberstalking will involve threats to kill,
kidnap, or injure the person, reputation, or property of another, either on
or offline and, as such, may be prosecuted under other federal or state
laws that do not relate directly to stalking. 

Finally, federal law may limit the ability of law enforcement agencies to
track down stalkers and other criminals in cyberspace. In particular, the
Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (CCPA) prohibits the disclosure of
cable subscriber records to law enforcement agencies without a court order
and advance notice to the subscriber. See 47 U.S.C. 551(c), (h). As more
and more individuals turn to cable companies as their ISPs, the CCPA is
posing a significant obstacle to the investigation of cybercrimes,
including cyberstalking. For example, under the CCPA, a law enforcement
agency investigating a cyberstalker who uses a cable company for Internet
access would have to provide the individual notice that the agency has
requested his/her subscriber records, thereby jeopardizing the criminal
investigation. While it is appropriate to prohibit the indiscriminate
disclosure of cable records to law enforcement agencies, the better
approach would be to harmonize federal law by providing law enforcement
access to cable subscriber records under the same privacy safeguards that
currently govern law enforcement access to records of electronic mail
subscribers under 18 U.S.C. 2703. Moreover, special provisions could be
drafted to protect against the inappropriate disclosure of records that
would reveal a customer's viewing habits. 

Law enforcement response: the challenge of anonymity 

Another complication for law enforcement is the presence of services that
provide anonymous communications over the Internet. To be sure, anonymity
provides important benefits, including protecting the privacy of Internet
users. Unfortunately, cyberstalkers and other cybercriminals can exploit
the anonymity available on the Internet to avoid accountability for their

Anonymous services on the Internet come in one of two forms: the first
allows individuals to create a free electronic mailbox through a web site.
While most entities that provide this service request identifying
information from users, such services almost never authenticate or
otherwise confirm this information. For these services, payment is
typically made in advance through the use of a money order or other non-
traceable form of payment. As long as payment is received in advance by the
ISP, the service is provided to the unknown account holder. The second form
comprises mail servers that purposefully strip identifying information and
transport headers from electronic mail. By forwarding mails through several
of these services serially, a stalker can nearly perfectly anonymize the
message. The presence of both such services makes it relatively simple to
send anonymous communications, while making it difficult for victims,
providers, and law enforcement to identify the person or persons
responsible for transmitting harassing or threatening communications over
the Internet. 

Law enforcement response: specialized units show promise in combating

A growing number of law enforcement agencies are recognizing the serious
nature and extent of cyberstalking and taking aggressive action to respond.
Some larger metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles and New York, have seen
numerous incidents of cyberstalking and have specialized units available to
investigate and prosecute these cases. For example, Los Angeles has
developed the Stalking and Threat Assessment Team. This team combines
special sections of the police department and district attorney's office to
ensure properly trained investigators and prosecutors are available when
cyberstalking cases arise. In addition, this specialized unit is given
proper resources, such as adequate computer hardware and advanced training,
which is essential in investigating and prosecuting these technical cases.
Similarly, the New York City Police Department created the Computer
Investigation and Technology Unit. This unit provides regular training for
police officers and prosecutors regarding the intricacies of cyberstalking
investigations and prosecutions. The training includes understanding how
chat rooms operate, how to obtain and preserve electronic evidence, and how
to draft search warrants and subpoenas. 

The programs in New York and Los Angeles both ensure that enforcement
personnel receive proper training and have adequate resources to combat
cyberstalking. Other jurisdictions are also taking steps to combat
cyberstalking. One of the critical steps is learning how to trace
communications sent over computers and the Internet. Traditional law
enforcement techniques for surveillance, investigation, and evidence
gathering require modification for use on computer networks and often
require the use of unfamiliar legal processes. Law enforcement at all
levels must be properly trained to use network investigative techniques and
legal process while protecting the privacy of legitimate users of the
Internet. These techniques are similar to those used in investigating other
types of computer crime. Just as a burglar might leave fingerprints at the
scene of a crime, a cyberstalker can leave an "electronic trail" on the web
that properly trained law enforcement can follow back to the source. Thus,
technological proficiency among both investigators and prosecutors is

At present, there are numerous efforts at the federal and state levels that
focus solely on high technology crimes. These units do not focus on
cyberstalking alone, but they have the necessary expertise in computers and
the Internet to assist in the investigation of cyberstalking when it
arises. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has Computer
Crime Squads throughout the country, as well as the National Infrastructure
Protection Center in Washington, to ensure cybercrimes are properly
investigated. Additionally, they have Computer Analysis and Response Teams
to conduct forensics examinations on seized magnetic media. Similarly, in
1996 the Justice Department established the Computer Crime and Intellectual
Property Section within the Criminal Division. These units have highly
trained personnel who remain on the cutting edge of new technology and
investigative techniques. In addition, each U.S. Attorney's office contains
experienced computer crime prosecutors. These individuals -- Computer and
Telecommunications Coordinators -- assist in the investigation and
prosecution of a wide variety of computer crimes, including cyberstalking.
In addition, at the state level, several attorneys general have established
special divisions that focus on computer crimes. 

Although high-tech expertise is essential, police and prosecutors have
developed other strategies for helping victims of cyberstalking. An
Assistant U.S. Attorney reported that in two recent cases of e-mail
harassment, he asked an FBI agent to confront the would-be harasser. The
agent advised that such behavior might constitute a criminal offense. In
both instances, the harassment stopped. Such strategies, however, are no
substitute for prosecution under federal or state law in the appropriate

A critical step in combating cyberstalking is understanding stalking in
general. In many instances, cyberstalking is simply another phase in an
overall stalking pattern, or it is regular stalking behavior using new,
high-technology tools. Thus, strategies and techniques that have been
developed to combat stalking in general often can be adapted to
cyberstalking situations. Fortunately, many state and local law enforcement
agencies have begun to focus on stalking, and some have developed special
task forces to deal with this problem. In addition, the Attorney General
submits an annual report to Congress entitled "Stalking and Domestic
Violence." This report compiles valuable information about what the
Department of Justice has learned about stalking and stalkers and is a
valuable resource for law enforcement agencies and others.(8) 

Cyberstalking is expected to increase as computers and the Internet become
more popular. Accordingly, law enforcement at all levels must become more
sensitive to cyberstalking complaints and devote the necessary training and
resources to allow proper investigation and prosecution. By becoming
technologically proficient and understanding stalking in general, agencies
will be better prepared to respond to cyberstalking incidents in their
jurisdictions. In addition, state and local agencies can turn to their
local FBI or U.S. Attorney's office for additional technical assistance.
Also, computer crime units and domestic violence units should share
information and expertise, since many cyberstalking cases will include
elements of both computer crime and domestic violence. Finally, law
enforcement must become more sensitive to the fear and frustration
experienced by cyberstalking victims. Proper training should help in this
regard, but law enforcement at all levels should take the next step and
place special emphasis on this problem. Computers and the Internet are
becoming indispensable parts of America's culture, and cyberstalking is a
growing threat. Responding to a victim's complaint by saying "just turn off
your computer" is not acceptable. 

Industry efforts 

Although the Internet industry has tried to combat abusive electronic
communications overall, the industry as a whole has not addressed
cyberstalking in particular. According to a review conducted as part of the
preparation of the report, most major ISPs have established an address to
which complaints of abusive or harassing electronic mail can be sent
(generally, this address is "abuse@[the ISP's domain]" -- for example,
"abuse@aol.com". In addition, these providers almost uniformly have
provisions in their online agreements specifically prohibiting abusive or
harassing conduct through their service and providing that violations of
the policy will result in termination of the account. 

In practice, however, ISPs have focused more on assisting their customers
in avoiding annoying online behavior, such as receiving unsolicited
commercial electronic mail ("spamming") or large amounts of electronic mail
intentionally sent to an individual ("mail-bombing"); relatively less
attention has been paid to helping victims of cyberstalking or other
electronic threats. For some ISPs, the procedures for lodging complaints of
online harassment or threats were difficult to locate, and their policies
about what does or does not constitute a violation of service agreements
were generally unhelpful. In addition, many ISPs do not inform their
customers about what steps, if any, the ISP has taken to follow-up on their
customer's complaint. These problems -- hard-to-locate complaint
procedures, vague policies about what does and does not constitute
prohibited harassment, and inadequate follow-up on complaints -- may pose
serious obstacles to cyberstalking victims who need help. 

Online industry associations respond that providing such protection to
their customers is costly and difficult. Although they recognize that
larger ISPs have begun to commit resources to dealing with harassment
online, they caution that the costs of imposing additional reporting or
response obligations upon ISPs may make it difficult for small or
entrepreneurial ISPs to continue providing service at competitive rates.
For example, the Commercial Internet Exchange, whose members carry
approximately 75 percent of U.S. backbone traffic, cautions that no attempt
to impose reporting requirements should be made unless fully justified by
the record. However, according to the same group, the decentralized nature
of the Internet would make it difficult for providers to collect and submit
such data. Accordingly, the evidence of the scope of the cyberstalking
problem is likely to remain for the forseeable future defined primarily by
anecdotal evidence, with no basis to determine whether the phenomenon is
growing, static, or declining. 

Industry efforts: educating and protecting consumers 

Despite the difficulty in fully defining the scope of the cyberstalking
problem, however, industry has made notable efforts to inform consumers
about ways to protect themselves online. Such information is principally
focused on protecting children and consumers on the Internet. For example,
since 1996, the Internet Alliance, one of the key Internet industry groups,
has worked with the Federal Trade Commission and government agencies on
Project OPEN (Online Public Education Network). Project OPEN provides
information about fraud, parental controls, and protecting privacy.(9)
Although this information is not specifically relevant to cyberstalking,
much of the advice about protecting children and safeguarding privacy while
online may be of assistance to individuals who want to use the Internet
while protecting against potential cyberstalkers. More recently, a number
of industry organizations have joined together to develop, GetNetWise.Com -
 a single, comprehensive online resource to help parents and children use
the Internet in a safe and educational manner. 

Other similar industry efforts have recently been announced to address
other aspects of computer-related crime. For example, the Department of
Justice and the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA)
announced the Cybercitizen Partnership in March 1999. This partnership is
intended to boost cooperation between industry and government, expand
public awareness of computer crime issues among children and adolescents,
and provide resources for government to draw upon in addressing computer
crime. The industry has also responded to the complaints of parents who are
worried about the content available to their children over the Internet by
announcing the "One Click Away" initiative to give parents important
information about protecting their children in a central location. Similar
education and outreach efforts, approached through cooperation between
industry and government, may educate individuals concerned about these
issues and therefore mitigate some of the dangers of cyberstalking. 

In addition, other Internet industry sectors have begun to address aspects
of the cyberstalking problem. Many of these solutions focus on the ability
of individuals to protect themselves against unwanted communications. For
example, most Internet "chat" facilities offer users the ability to block,
squelch, or ignore chat messages or "paging" from individuals who are
attempting to annoy or threaten them. Similarly, many e-mail users have
tools which allow the users to block e-mail from individuals who are
attempting to harass or annoy them. Such a solution may be useful in
situations where the communications are merely annoying. Unfortunately,
such a solution is less appropriate when threatening communications are
received, because a victim who never "receives" the threat may not know
they are being stalked, and may be alerted, for the first time, when the
stalker shows up to act on the threat. 

In another type of response, providers have begun to set up "gated
communities" for individuals, families, and children. The techniques used
by such communities are still in developmental stages, but they range from
specialized servers, which allow potentially objectionable content to be
filtered at the server, to designated areas for children and teens, which
place restrictions on the amount or types of personal information that will
be provided to others. Individuals who are concerned about being stalked
may find refuge in such communities. 

While these efforts all reflect important initiatives for self-protection,
both industry and government representatives agree that a key component of
addressing the cyberstalking problem is education and empowerment: If
individuals are given clear direction about how to protect themselves
against threatening or harassing communications, and how to report
incidents when they do occur, both industry and law enforcement will be in
a position to cooperate to conduct investigations. 

Industry efforts: cooperation with law enforcement 

Both industry and law enforcement benefit when crime over the Internet is
reduced. In particular, the Internet industry benefits significantly
whenever citizen and consumer confidence and trust in the Internet is
increased. Accordingly, both industry and law enforcement recognize the
need to cooperate more fully with one another in this area. Industry
representatives have noted that contact between industry and law
enforcement -- particularly in the area of harassment -- is sporadic and
episodic. Industry representatives, who were consulted as part of the
preparation of this report, indicated their willingness to participate in
training efforts for law enforcement. Law enforcement -- particularly on
the state and local level, who will often be first responders to
cyberstalking complaints -- should be willing to engage industry in
dialogue and take advantage of the expertise offered by industry in
designing training programs. Moreover, closer cooperation between law
enforcement and industry will help to ensure that law enforcement officers
know who at the ISPs to call and how to proceed when they receive a
complaint, and ISPs have a contact in law enforcement when they receive a
complaint that warrants intervention by law enforcement. 

Victims and support organizations 

Because cyberstalking is a relatively new criminal phenomenon, very little
public attention and resources have been committed to addressing this
crime. Consequently, victims of online harassment and threats, often in
collaboration with victim service providers and advocates, have had to step
in to fill the void by developing their own informal support networks and
informational web sites to exchange information about how to respond to
these crimes effectively. 

Victim service providers report that the Internet is rapidly becoming
another weapon used by batterers against their victims. Just as in real
life, abused women can be followed in cyberspace by their batterers, who
may surreptitiously place their target under surveillance without her
knowledge and use the information to threaten her or discredit her by
putting misinformation on the Internet. Victim service providers recommend
that victims make copies of all e-mails sent by the batterer as evidence of
his stalking and advise a victim to let the stalker know that she does not
want to have any further contact with him. SAFE House, a domestic violence
victim service provider in Michigan, suggests that victims change their
passwords often; refrain from telling anyone what the password is; do not
use a password or other identifying information that the batterer/stalker
can guess; set up a program that requires a password even to get on the
computer; be sure to clear out the history information if programs such as
ICQ, AOL Communicator, and Excite PAL, are used; remember that many chat
rooms have archives that can be accessed later on by anyone; be careful
about what is said in chat rooms and use an alias that is only known to
good friends; be aware that if the screen name of the assailant is known,
he can be blocked from tracking victims through a buddy list on AOL; and,
consult the ISP about the best way to secure their account. 

A focus group convened on October 30, 1998, by the Office for Victims of
Crime, a component within the U.S. Department of Justice, sought to
identify the needs of stalking victims, including victims whose stalkers
used the Internet to track and to harass their victims. The victims at the
focus group emphasized that although the response of law enforcement and
victim service providers is important, stalking victims need a wide range
of services from doctors, mental health providers, day care providers,
welfare and child protection workers, school staff, and employers. In
addition, the focus group participants indicated that community awareness
and understanding of what constitutes stalking behavior is critical to the
support and well-being of stalking victims. Finally, all of the stalking
victims reported that the consequences of not being believed or supported,
or having their fears viewed as exaggerated or unrealistic, can be
devastating. Some victims feel isolated and alone, are made to believe that
the stalking is their fault, lose primary relationships, or fear losing
their jobs. These issues are just as relevant to cyberstalking victims as
they are to victims of offline stalking. 

Adequacy of Existing Laws 

Although stalking has been a problem for many years, only in this decade
has it received significant attention from lawmakers, policy officials, and
law enforcement agencies. In 1990, California became the first state to
enact a specific stalking law. Since that time, all 50 states and the
District of Columbia have enacted stalking laws. 

State cyberstalking laws 

Less than one third of the states have anti-stalking laws that explicitly
cover stalking via the Internet, e-mail, pagers, or other electronic
communications. California, for example, only recently amended its stalking
statute to cover cyberstalking. This law was used in the prosecution of a
50-year-old former security guard who pleaded guilty on April 28, 1999, to
one count of stalking and three counts of solicitation of sexual assault
after using the Internet to solicit the rape of a woman who rejected his
romantic advances. While the general stalking statutes in some states may
cover cyberstalking, all states should review their laws to ensure they
prohibit and provide appropriate punishment for stalking via the Internet
and other electronic communications. 

Federal cyberstalking laws 

Federal law provides a number of important tools that are available to
combat cyberstalking. Under 18 U.S.C. 875(c), it is a federal crime,
punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, to
transmit any communication in interstate or foreign commerce containing a
threat to injure the person of another. Section 875(c) applies to any
communication actually transmitted in interstate or foreign commerce - thus
it includes threats transmitted in interstate or foreign commerce via the
telephone, e-mail, beepers, or the Internet. 

Although 18 U.S.C. 875 is an important tool, it is not an all-purpose anti-
cyberstalking statute. First, it applies only to communications of actual
threats. Thus, it would not apply in a situation where a cyberstalker
engaged in a pattern of conduct intended to harass or annoy another (absent
some threat). Also, it is not clear that it would apply to situations where
a person harasses or terrorizes another by posting messages on a bulletin
board or in a chat room encouraging others to harass or annoy another
person (as in the California case, discussed infra.). 

Certain forms of cyberstalking also may be prosecuted under 47 U.S.C. 223.
One provision of this statute makes it a federal crime, punishable by up to
two years in prison, to use a telephone or telecommunications device to
annoy, abuse, harass, or threaten any person at the called number.(10) The
statute also requires that the perpetrator not reveal his or her name. See
47 U.S.C. 223(a)(1)(C). Although this statute is broader than 18 U.S.C. 875
-- in that it covers both threats and harassment -- Section 223 applies
only to direct communications between the perpetrator and the victim. Thus,
it would not reach a cyberstalking situation where a person harasses or
terrorizes another person by posting messages on a bulletin board or in a
chat room encouraging others to harass or annoy another person. Moreover,
Section 223 is only a misdemeanor, punishable by not more than two years in

The Interstate Stalking Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996,
makes it a crime for any person to travel across state lines with the
intent to injure or harass another person and, in the course thereof,
places that person or a member of that person's family in a reasonable fear
of death or serious bodily injury. See 18 U.S.C. 2261A. Although a number
of serious stalking cases have been prosecuted under Section 2261A, the
requirement that the stalker physically travel across state lines makes it
largely inapplicable to cyberstalking cases. 

Finally, President Clinton signed a bill into law in October 1998 that
protects children against online stalking. The statute, 18 U.S.C. 2425,
makes it a federal crime to use any means of interstate or foreign commerce
(such as a telephone line or the Internet) to knowingly communicate with
any person with intent to solicit or entice a child into unlawful sexual
activity. While this new statute provides important protections for
children, it does not reach harassing phone calls to minors absent a
showing of intent to entice or solicit the child for illicit sexual

Thus, although current statutes address some forms of cyberstalking, there
are gaps in current federal and state law. As outlined in the
Recommendations below, States should review their existing stalking and
other statutes to determine whether they address cyberstalking and, if not,
expeditiously enact laws that prohibit cyberstalking. 

Federal legislation also is needed to fill the gaps in current law. While
most cyberstalking cases will fall within the jurisdiction of state and
local authorities, there are instances - such as serious cyberharassment
directed at a victim in another state or involving communications intended
to encourage third parties to engage in harassment or threats - where state
law is inadequate or where state or local agencies do not have the
expertise or the resources to investigate and/or prosecute a sophisticated
cyberstalking case. Therefore, federal law should be amended to prohibit
the transmission of any communication in interstate or foreign commerce
with intent to threaten or harass another person, where such communication
places another person in fear of death or bodily injury to themselves or
another person. Because of the increased vulnerability of children, the
statute should provide for enhanced penalties where the victim is a minor.
Such targeted, technology-neutral legislation would fill existing gaps in
current federal law, without displacing the primary law enforcement role of
state and local authorities and without infringing on First Amendment-
protected speech. 

First Amendment and Other Legal Considerations

All 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have
passed laws that criminalize stalking to address the serious harms and
dangers that result from stalking, including the fear of violence and loss
of privacy and control suffered by the victim. In addition to the direct
harms caused by stalking, stalking is also frequently a precursor to
physical violence against the victim. By its nature, however, stalking is
not a crime that can be defined with a particularized, discrete set of
acts. Frequently stalking consists of a course of conduct that may involve
a broad range of harassing, intimidating, and threatening behavior directed
at a victim. The conduct can be as varied as the stalker's imagination and
ability to take actions that harass, threaten, and force himself or herself
into the life and consciousness of the victim. As new technologies become
available, stalkers adapt those technologies to new ways of stalking
victims, as is the case with the Internet and cyberstalking.  

As a result of the breadth of conduct potentially involved in stalking,
anti-stalking statutes need to be relatively broad to be effective. At the
same time, however, because of that breadth and because stalking can
involve expressive conduct and speech, anti-stalking statutes must be
carefully formulated and enforced so as not to impinge upon speech that is
protected by the First Amendment. This is particularly true with regard to
cyberstalking laws, which frequently will involve speech over the Internet.
The Internet, moreover, has been recognized as an important tool for
protected speech activities. See, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties
Union, 521 U.S. 844, 850-52, 870 (1997); American Civil Liberties Union v.
Reno, 31 F.Supp.2d 473, 476, 493 (E.D. Pa. 1999).  

The fact that stalking behavior (including cyberstalking) may implicate
important issues of free speech, however, does not eliminate the
significant public interest in its criminal regulation or suggest that any
criminal regulation would be prohibited by the freedom of speech guarantees
of the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not prohibit any and all
regulation that may involve or have an impact on speech. Of particular
relevance to stalking, the Supreme Court has recognized that governments
may criminalize true threats without violating the First Amendment. See,
e.g., Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705 (1969) (per curiam). As
discussed in the Introduction of this report, stalking (as well as
cyberstalking) generally involves conduct reasonably understood to
constitute a threat of violence, and such threats may be criminalized
consistent with the First Amendment.  

One of the recommendations in this report calls on states to review and
update their statutes, where necessary, to cover electronic communications
within their stalking laws. Care must be taken in drafting cyberstalking
statutes to ensure that they are not so broad that they risk chilling
constitutionally protected speech, such as political protest and other
legitimate conduct. A carefully drafted statute can provide broad
protections against cyberstalking without running afoul of the First

General recommendations 

The law enforcement community, private industry, victims assistance
providers, and individuals must recognize that cyberstalking is a serious
problem -- not only as a potential precursor to offline threats and
violence, but also as a serious invasion of an increasingly important
aspect of people's everyday lives. At the same time, it is important to
note that many forms of annoying and menacing activity on the Internet do
not rise to the level of illegal activity and are properly addressed by
individuals and service providers without recourse to law enforcement

The lack of comprehensive data on the nature and extent of cyberstalking
makes it difficult to develop effective response strategies. Future surveys
and research studies on stalking should, where possible, include specific
information on cyberstalking. Industry organizations can and should play a
role not only in increasing the amount of data on the cyberstalking
problem, but also ensuring that the data can be analyzed in a meaningful

Legislative recommendations 

States should review their existing stalking and other statutes to
determine whether they address cyberstalking and, if not, promptly expand
such laws to address cyberstalking.  

Although State and local law enforcement agencies should retain primary
jurisdiction over cyberstalking cases, federal law should be amended to
address gaps in existing law where the conduct involves interstate or
foreign communications. Such legislation should prohibit the transmission
of any communication in interstate or foreign commerce with intent to
threaten or harass another person where such communication places another
in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury. Enhanced penalties should be
available where the victim is a minor. Such legislation should be
technology neutral and should apply to all forms of communication

Federal law also should be amended to make it easier to track down stalkers
and other criminals in cyberspace while maintaining safeguards for privacy.
In particular, the Cable Communications Policy Act should be amended to
provide access to the same type of subscriber records, and under the same
standards and privacy safeguards, as those for electronic mail subscribers
under 18 U.S.C. 2703 (while maintaining strict limits on access to records
that reveal customer viewing habits).  

Recommendations for law enforcement and criminal justice officials 

Law enforcement agencies and courts need to recognize the serious nature of
cyberstalking, including the close links between offline and online

Law enforcement agencies need training on the nature and extent of the
cyberstalking problem, including specific training on the legal tools
available to address the problem, the need for, and effectiveness of,
prompt action by law enforcement agencies, the most effective techniques to
investigate and prosecute cyberstalking crimes, and the resources available
to cyberstalking victims.  

Law enforcement agencies with existing stalking or computer crime units
should consider expanding the mission of such units to include
cyberstalking, and law enforcement agencies that do not presently have a
stalking section should consider expanding their capabilities to address
this issue. At the least, law enforcement agencies should understand the
patterns underlying stalking in general and be prepared to respond and
intercede on behalf of cyberstalking victims.  

Law enforcement agencies should use mechanisms for quickly and reliably
sharing information about cyberstalking incidents with other law
enforcement agencies, thereby making it less likely that a cyberstalker can
continue threatening behavior simply because neither the jurisdiction of
the sender nor the jurisdiction of the victim believes that it can
prosecute the offender.    

U.S. Attorneys' Offices, in consultation with other federal, state and
local agencies, should examine the available resources and networks of
investigators and prosecutors with the expertise to handle cyberstalking
investigations. These include violent crime specialists, computer crime
investigators and prosecutors, computer forensic specialists, and victim-
witness coordinators, among others. 

The Law Enforcement Coordinating Committees, which have been established in
each U.S. Attorneys' Office and are designed to foster coordination among
law enforcement agencies, would be an appropriate body for addressing these
issues.  Law enforcement agencies should work more closely with victim
groups to identify cyberstalking patterns and victims' experiences and to
encourage cyberstalking victims to report incidents to law enforcement

Recommendations for the Internet and electronic communications industry 

The Internet and electronic communications industry should -- 

Create an industry-supported website containing information about
cyberstalking and what to do if confronted with this problem. Contact
information for the major ISPs should be included so that Internet users
can easily report cyberstalking cases after visiting this centralized
resource. This recommendation could be implemented by expanding the "One
Click Away" initiative or through a complementary but separate initiative
focused on cyberstalking.  

Develop additional means to empower individuals to protect themselves
against cyberstalking. Such means might include more accessible and
effective filtering and blocking options. While some major ISPs already
allow such options, others do not.  

Develop training materials designed specifically to assist law enforcement
in the investigation and prosecution of cyberstalking and related crimes.
For example, a short training video could be developed to increase
awareness of the cyberstalking problem and to provide law enforcement
officers with essential information on how to work with ISPs and others in
the investigation of cyberstalking cases.  

Cooperate fully with law enforcement when investigating cyberstalking
complaints. The industry can do this, for example, by immediately freezing
and retaining data for law enforcement use on any potential cyberstalking

Establish best business practices to address illicit activity by
terminating holders of fraudulent accounts.  

Sponsor an Internet Security and Law Enforcement Council of ISPs and other
members of the Internet community to develop and promote industry best
business practices relating to security and law enforcement issues
(including cyberstalking), develop and distribute training materials for
law enforcement on the investigation and prosecution of Internet crime, and
promote more effective communication and cooperation between industry and
law enforcement in combating online criminal activity.  

Establish and enforce clear policies that prohibit cyberstalking and
related behaviors, including the termination of accounts for persons who
violate such policies. While it appears that most of the larger ISPs have
such policies, some smaller ISPs do not. Representatives from the Internet
industry should consider establishing an industry-wide code of conduct that
encourages all ISPs to adopt such procedures.  Establish clear and
understandable procedures for individuals - both customers and non-
customers - to register complaints about individuals using the company's
service to engage in cyberstalking. Such procedures should be easily
accessible to individuals.  

Develop and widely disseminate educational materials to customers and
others on how to protect themselves online.  

Recommendations for victim service providers and advocates 

Victim service providers and advocates should -- 

Provide direct services and referrals to available resources that are
specifically designed to assist victims of cyberstalking, or stalking in
general where cyberstalking services are not available, and work to ensure
that cyberstalking services are expanded to meet the needs of victims and
enhance their safety;    

Train domestic violence and other victim service providers and advocates on
Internet technology, the tactics used by cyberstalkers, and how to respond
to the specific needs of cyberstalking victims;    

Name the behavior as cyberstalking and validate that a crime is occurring
when working with individual victims;    

Serve as catalysts in community efforts to form partnerships among law
enforcement, prosecution, the judiciary, the medical community and other
community allies to address the specific safety needs of cyberstalking
victims and hold offenders accountable for their actions;    

Raise public awareness about the devastating impact on cyberstalking
victims of the tactics used by cyberstalkers and the steps that can be
taken to prevent and combat this crime; and    

Inform public policy decision making. 

Appendix I: 

Cyberstalking Resources Online
[deleted as dated --  tallpaul]

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