Saturday, July 21, 2012

Arizona, U.S., Outlaws CyberStalking

(U.S.A.) Arizona has broadened its laws on stalking and harassment, joining 24 other states with similar legislation.

House Bill 2549 will prevent anyone from terrifying, intimidating, threatening or harassing an individual through electronic communication. The previous law, crafted in the 1970s, protected individuals from these acts only via telephone.

The new law, effective Aug. 2, also makes it illegal to use an electronic, digital or Global Positioning System device to monitor an individual for 12 hours or more on two or more occasions.

"We had a loophole in the law that had developed because technology had outpaced the law," said Republican state Rep. Ted Vogt of Tucson, who sponsored the bill. "We communicate in very different ways in 2012 than we did in the early 1970s."

According to the law, an electronic communication is considered a "wire line, cable, wireless or cellular telephone call, a text message, an instant message or electronic mail."

"Every legislature moving forward is going to have to deal with the impact of technology," said Republican state Rep. Vic Williams of Tucson, a co-sponsor. "Many of the issues that will come up, we don't even realize what they will be."

Besides Arizona, 24 states have cyberstalking and cyberharassment laws, 10 states have only cyberstalking laws and 13 have only cyberharassment laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kentucky and Nebraska don't have laws in either category.

The new law does not apply to Facebook or other social networking sites or blogs. The communication must be considered unwanted or unsolicited and be directed to a specific individual.

Williams said people usually are communicating with more than one other person on these sites, which is allowed.

"People have the right to make comments about people," he said. "Those things shouldn't be inhibited or blocked."

Kim MacEachern, staff lawyer for the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council, said the law will help prosecutors win cases they previously lost.

In the past, harassment cases involved victims receiving voice mails constantly. Now, it's text messages, she said.

"It clarifies what it means to harass someone using an electronic communication," MacEachern said. "I think, in the end, the bill turned out to be pretty specific at what it was getting at."

Harassment is classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail, three years on probation and a $2,500 fine.

Stalking can be classified as a Class 3 or Class 5 felony. Those convicted are eligible for probation but could get six months to eight years in jail.

The final version of the law says it does not apply to constitutionally protected speech.

Seth Apfel, a former board member for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said wording in the law is open to too much interpretation.

He said he is concerned prosecutors will take advantage to prove an intent to harass even if there wasn't.

"When you have language that allows for potential abuse, there might be someone in the government that will abuse it," Apfel said. "I'd rather not present that opportunity and have language that is very narrowly written."

original article found here

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