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Intent to harm needed for cyberstalking prosecution

Charges against a defendant can grow complicated when an alleged crime involves the Internet. For instance, the Wisconsin law against stalking mainly includes physical intrusions into another person’s life for the purpose of harassing him or her. The law also prohibits using a phone, recording equipment, the mail or some other delivery system to abuse a victim.

The stalking law does not address the specific use of electronic devices. However, the state statute known as the unlawful use of computerized communication systems does. So, while Wisconsin has no fixed cyberstalking law, a defendant can be in plenty of legal trouble for using the Internet to annoy, frighten or harass another person.

Cyberstalking may be described as stalking from a distance. In some cases, the crime resembles identity theft, although the motivation behind the two crimes differs. For identity thieves, someone else’s confidential information is a possible ticket to financial gain but, for cyberstalkers, the data is way to harm the victim in another way.

An online stalker researches a victim’s personal life online by visiting public information and social media sites. Some stalkers employ hardware devices or software programs to steal a victim’s identifying information. Damage is done when the information is used to monitor, scare or harm the reputation of another person.

Cyberstalking isn’t easy to prove. According to the National White Collar Crime Center, humiliated victims may not report the crime and, even when they do, some law enforcement agencies are not trained or equipped to investigate the claims. Prosecutors also have difficulties proving a defendant, distanced by the Internet, posed a “credible threat” to an alleged victim.

Laws may not be broken even when harassing or abusive actions take place, unless the behaviors are repeated with the express purpose of causing harm. Actions without intent may not be prosecutable. A Kohn & Smith attorney knows when the legal boundaries are and aren’t crossed.

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