Cyber Guardians Online has under development a unique evidence gathering App that will assist in taking the appropriate legal action against persons who stalk, bully, harass, intimidate or defame any person via social media.
By viewing our Slideshare you will have an opportunity to register your interest to be one of the first to download this App when it passed our stringent testing.
Stalking is clearly defined under criminal codes around the world and a good example of the definition of ‘stalking‘ can be found at Section 21(A) of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) as outlined in this link.
Upon review of the legislation relating to stalking it appears to be a broad piece of legislation that has moved with the times to ensure it also covers a course conduct that involves the use of the internet. It is quite clear that under Section 21(A)(2)(ii) that a person who “arouses apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of any other person-with the intention of causing physical or mental harm to the victim to the victim. including self harm, or of arousing apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of any other person” can be deemed to be stalking.
As a practising Attorney I have recently been involved in several matters where Magistrates have referred to ‘stalking’ and it is one of the conditions set in domestic violence or personal safety intervention orders, however law enforcement bodies have limited resources to investigate stalking offences in general.
Whilst the law is quite clear with regards to ‘stalking’ the reality is enforcing such legislation is quite onerous on law enforcement and it appears that only in extreme cases will such matters proceed to court.
It is here that I would like to focus on ‘location stalking’ which whilst it applies to the general public at large it is extremely prevalent amongst celebrities, sporting stars and various other public figures and with social media use being adopted by society the opportunities for persons that engage in such activity will also increase.
The majority of social media users are aware that under various privacy settings in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like that individual location geocodes(1) can be turned off therefore the exact location is not highlighted on a map for all to see. However, where people want to share a momentous occasion or just share a picture for their ‘friends, family, followers, subscribers and fans to see that one picture may in fact identify their exact location.
As a business decision to understand my law practice area and for other parts of my business where my market is heavily involved in social media I am an avid user of social media and use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where I ‘follow’ or ‘fan’ a variety of persons, celebrities, sporting stars and businesses. Most I must say as mentioned previously are conscious of having privacy settings set so that their exact location is not revealed, however simple photographs can give away locations to persons who may be set on ‘stalking’ that individual.
I can appreciate how sporting stars and celebrities are using social media as a way to get their personal ‘brand’ out there and it is imperative that they use social media in a manner that encourages growth of their ‘fan’ base it must however, be front of mind that some photographs that they want to share may best be ‘posted’ 24 hours or so after the event so not to give away their current location.
Constantly I see persons who are very protective of their privacy for security purposes post photographs of locations that to most people in the area would know the location and as an example I have posted my favorite picture of my preferred hotel for when I am in Sydney, the Intercontinental. It is here, this morning I awoke to see a sporting star that I ‘follow’ on Instagram post a picture that was taken at this particular hotel. For the sporting stars ‘privacy’ I have not posted her ‘picture’ but have posted a picture that reveals how a ‘picture’ can pass on your exact location.
Not only can iconic locations give your position away, general landmarks, backdrops of freeway/interstate highways, buildings etc can also assist persons who are set in their ways on ‘stalking’ or just finding out your location, whether it be your workplace, home or favourite restaurant or bar.
We cannot live our lives in ‘bubble-wrap’, we can however be mindful that whilst sharing pictures on social media is part of everyday life for a lot of people, personal safety is an area that needs to be considered before every ‘posting’.
(1) For geographical data to be stored on a map it requires a geocode that contains the address in detail.
Several recent tragic events both here in Australia and in the United States have been exasperated by persons creating fake social media sites and posting comments that are about criminal matters before the courts. In Australia these comments can be deemed ‘sub judas’ (under judicial consideration) and may constitute interference with due process leading to contempt of court proceedings. The United States do not have such tight restrictions on comments sub judas due to the First Amendment and the right to free speech, however, cases have been overturned where the defendant was convicted in an atmosphere of a media circus.
As the police either charge an offender or identify a suspect with regards to a major crime and if that crime has been featured in the media, persons appear to create Facebook and twitter accounts at an alarming rate in the name of the suspect almost immediately after the crime has occurred and post comments that are either in what appear to be a sarcastic positive light towards the person charged or extremely disturbing comments and opinions that on occasion contain graphic images.
In addition to the aforementioned abhorrent behaviour some people who are appear to be deeply psychologically disturbed create phenomenally disturbing Facebook and Twitter accounts and post comments and images that can have an impact not only the court proceedings but also on the metal well being of persons who read such posts. Additionally, these comments may also be deemed to fall under one of the categories of cyber bullying, stalking, harassment, intimidation and or vilification creating anxiety and psychological trauma to victims, their friends, relatives and the community in general.
A review of social media sites over the last six months especially after crimes that have featured heavily in the media has revealed the following.
- A fake Facebook page depicting to be the brother of an alleged murderer and posting comments how the victim deserved to be raped and murdered.
- Hundreds of comments on the actual alleged murderers Facebook page that due to its virility in cyberspace such actions could lead to the person not being able to have a ‘fair trial’ in the relevant jurisdiction.
- A fake Twitter account depicting to be of the father of a victim with comments about the victim.
- A fake twitter account of a shooting victim showing images of the victim with bullet wounds and making several comments as to how ‘good a shot’ the perpetrator was.
- Hundreds of detrimental comments on Facebook pages of persons recently deceased in car accidents where the deceased person may have been at fault in the accident and death or serious injuries have resulted to other persons.
- Threats of violence and intimidation posted on the Facebook pages of family members of persons suspected of committing a crime.
The speed in which these fake social media accounts are created and the manner in which they generate vulgar comments is of particular concern in that anyone anywhere can create a Facebook or twitter account in a matter of seconds as all that is required is a computer/smart phone or tablet and an internet connection.
The ease and proliferation in creating a social networking site which are used to connect people either publicly or privately via private messages and chat forums increases the risk of ‘fake’ social networking that ultimately is leading to an increase in cyber stalking and bullying related offences.
Whilst no identification verification is required to open a social networking site, it appears no protection is afforded society from persons who are intent on causing distress to recipients of their communication.
Once a person has created the fake account they can commence their antisocial behaviour that may constitute bullying, harassment, stalking and or intimidation and it is here it is important to generically define some of these terms.
Overseas Outsourcing For Fake Account
Information suggests persons are using overseas outsourcing sites like O-Desk to create false accounts offshore in places like India, Bangladesh and several Eastern Bloc countries resulting in virtually untraceable social media account. Some contractors in O-Desk work for 25 cents per hour therefore creating a low cost alternative for a person who is intent on creating hundreds of fake social media accounts. This activity also allows for ‘Imposter’ accounts to be created. (A separate blog will be posted regarding imposter accounts)
Analysis of some online behaviour can be classed as online harassment that includes cyber stalking and cyber bullying that has been described by Stone (1999) to consist of “communications which are often constant, filled with disturbing and inappropriate content, and do not cease even after the victim asks for the behaviors to stop”. Cyber bullying is described as the act of threatening and harassing an individual via messages including blog posts, status updates and chat forums in social networking sites aimed at hurting and humiliating an individual.
As identified by Alba (2012) Wylie (2007) writes that examples of tactics used by bullies include sending a continuous amount of harmful messages or creating humiliating online content via social networking sites as well as posting fake ads to draw the attention of victims. Cyber stalking refers to “the malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person that threatens his or her safety” (Meloy & Gothard, 1995, p.258). Cyber stalking can be performed in various ways including threatening, intimidating and impersonating profiles (Sreedevi, 2012). As described by Neo (2011) cyber stalking may also include actions like “false accusations, monitoring, making threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, soliciting minors for sex, or gathering information to harass”.
A person can create with relative ease a fake profile on social networking sites that can include photos, descriptions, multimedia content and information regarding personal interests and location. Additionally, the person creating the fake profile may infiltrate a persons ‘friends’ network and appear to be ‘connected’ whereby others in the ‘friends’ circle may inadvertently link with the person behind the fake account.
Furthermore, Alba (2012)reported that Postmedia News (2012) wrote that victims who experience harassment at school or other environments, for example in the workplace, can now also experience harassment while in the privacy of their own home via social networking sites. Accessibility to social networking sites from not only the home but also via mobile communication means that victims can now be harassed at all hours of the day and the audience for cyber bullying and stalking has become much larger as opposed to traditional social environments.
Sreedevi (2012) points out that cyber criminals have the opportunity to remain anonymous online, making it more difficult for them to be traced and easier to target innocent people. Miller (2010) adds that as bullies or stalkers are not faced with victims who show real feelings online, harassment is easier for attackers making it worse and more hurtful for victims.
Day (2012) writes about a recent case of Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old American college student who committed suicide after his private life was exposed publicly. A video was created of him having sex with a male which was broadcast over the internet via social networking sites. His room mates were also involved in posting and exchanging harmful messages on twitter and failed to realise that these messages can be viewed by all, leading to serious consequences.
Global Instantaneous Reach
Alcindor (2012) explains that unlike exchanging messages on Facebook which can be restricted to a group, Twitter messages are broadcast publicly to a much larger audience. This is an example of how online harassment via social networks can cause real life consequences in real time.
Inability To Take Action
London based Bains Cohen LLP Solicitors (2011) have stated that victims often feel too frightened and powerless to report online harassment to the police and in any case the solicitors explain that often when incidents are reported, victims experience a lack of support as they find that police are either not interested, lack knowledge or the investigation involves a lengthy process. Not all police have sufficient knowledge to deal with online harassment.
On many occasions in Australia the state police will refer the complainant to the Australian Federal Police citing that it is a Commonwealth matter (Federal offence) as the relevant law that govern telecommunications services is a Commonwealth Act, being the Crimes Legislation Amendmnet (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Act (No.2) 2004. However the state police can investigate telecommunications offences and are generally in a better position to do so on most occasions as they are quite frequently domestic related offences. However, with the globalization of digital communication the shift in offence patterns is now shifting towards more complex investigations and as highlighted below the range of offences now under the act is is quite broad and somewhat complex, but nevertheless encompassing in that the legislation captures previously mentioned anti-social. behaviour.
Division 474—Telecommunications offences
Subdivision A—Dishonesty with respect to carriage services
- 474.1 Dishonesty
- 474.2 General dishonesty with respect to a carriage service provider
Subdivision B—Interference with telecommunications
- 474.3 Person acting for a carrier or carriage service provider
- 474.4 Interception devices
- 474.5 Wrongful delivery of communications
- 474.6 Interference with facilities
- 474.7 Modification etc. of a telecommunications device identifier
- 474.8 Possession or control of data or a device with intent to modify a telecommunications device identifier
- 474.9 Producing, supplying or obtaining data or a device with intent to modify a telecommunications device identifier
- 474.10 Copying subscription-specific secure data
- 474.11 Possession or control of data or a device with intent to copy an account identifier
- 474.12 Producing, supplying or obtaining data or a device with intent to copy an account identifier
Subdivision C—Offences related to use of telecommunications
- 474.13 Use of a carriage service
- 474.14 Using a telecommunications network with intention to commit a serious offence
- 474.15 Using a carriage service to make a threat
- 474.16 Using a carriage service for a hoax threat
- 474.17 Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence
- 474.18 Improper use of emergency call service
- 474.19 Using a carriage service for child pornography material
- 474.20 Possessing, controlling, producing, supplying or obtaining child pornography material for use through a carriage service
- 474.21 Defences in respect of child pornography material
- 474.22 Using a carriage service for child abuse material
- 474.23 Possessing, controlling, producing, supplying or obtaining child abuse material for use through a carriage service
- 474.24 Defences in respect of child abuse material
- 474.25 Obligations of Internet service providers and Internet content hosts
- 474.26 Using a carriage service to procure persons under 16 years of age
- 474.27 Using a carriage service to “groom” persons under 16 years of age
- 474.28 Provisions relating to offences against sections 474.26 and 474.27
- 474.29 Defences to offences against section 474.26 or 474.27
Furthermore, resolving harassment cases can be very complicated as it is not always easy to provide sufficient evidence especially when attackers are anonymous and located in other towns or countries. Bains Cohen LLP Solicitors (2011) identified a recent case which involved an internet savvy person who created intimidating blogs and websites against a victim who was jailed after being convicted of online harassment however it took police at least 18 months to track down the attacker, and even then, the harmful comments remained online as it was still difficult for the police to have the content removed. As a matter of fact, due to the enormous publicity related to the court case, the blogs and websites received even more attention causing even more distress to the victim. Ogilvie (2000) points out that in the case of attackers and victims being located in different countries or cities, it becomes difficult to determine which jurisdiction to apply to a case making justice and the resolution of problems very complicated.
Identifying the Offender
Identification is the key issue in that most people who have had a telecommunications service connected as a post pay service are familiar with having to produce some for of identification to obtain the service as credit is involved. Whilst this has been a somewhat reliable source of information for law enforcement in the past, it was not without its flaws. Some of the issues facing telecommunication companies and law enforcement are:
- False identification being produced.
- Having another person apply for the service (sometimes with an unknown person for a cash fee)
- Corruption within the sales department of the telecommunication service whereby identification is not verified as per company guidelines.
- Store clerk error in recording identification details.
All of the above lead to telecommunication services being provided to persons where identity is not adequately recorded if recorded at all.
Information also suggests that the ‘black market’ for untracebale SIM cards is ‘rife’ in Australia and the United States and these SIM cards are being connected onto networks at an alarming rate and could be facilitating criminal activity across all levels from petty street crimes and harassment to organized crime rackets involving drug importations and distribution, murder andkidnapping.
A major issue with law enforcement is how mobile telecommunications devices use a dynamic Internet Protocol (IP) as opposed to a static IP. (Zytrax 2012) As the names imply Static IP addresses are the same every time you connect with Dynamic IP addresses having the ability to change each time a person connects to the Internet. Dynamic IP addresses are the normal customer access method used by most ISPs or Service Providers. When using dynamic IP addresses, even if you are permanently connected (always-on) some ISPs/Service Providers change dynamic IP addresses every 24 hours, others change less frequently (monthly or even longer in certain cases).
Additionally, some persons may use internet cafes and register emails at Yahoo and the like from there where they then conduct the online harassment, whilst some persons scour the suburbs for ‘open’ wireless networks to gain access to ‘wifi’ connections from outside the premises. Such activity leads investigators to the usually ‘Static IP’ address and therefore allowing the person total anomoninity.
Like with all policing, success comes down to solid investigative work and with all of the aforementioned issues identified the proliferation of social media accounts and the ease they can be created both here and offshore combined with law enforcement agencies having to do more with less it is no wonder cyber bullying, harassment and the like is on the increase. Whilst law enforcement agencies have proactively created ‘computer crime units’ and national ‘High Tech Crime’ sections, front line police need better training and advice with regards to the ever changing world of ‘computer’ related crime.
Connectivity is a way of life now for all persons almost from the age of 4 years of age if not younger and an important part of our daily lives and with such reliance comes ‘familiarity’ and instances where our most vulnerable let their guard down and it is here we need to protect them with investigating and prosecuting persons who use the internet for illicit means.
Maybe, time has come for some civil action to be taken against perpetrators of internet based crime and start having monetary penalties applied.
Alba, Anna. (2012). Social Networks: the rise of online harrassment. Retreived from http://networkconference.netstudies.org/2012/socialnetworksonlineharassment/
Alcindor, Y. (2012, March 19). Lesson of Rutgerscase: Online actions carry consequences. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-03-16/rutgers/53574554/1
Bains Cohen LLP Solicitors. (2011). Internet Law Experts: Online harassment, online intimidation and the criminal justice system. Shall I Report Online Harassment To The Police? Retrieved from http://www.bainscohen.com/online-harassment-online-intimidation
Day, E. (2012, March 11). The hurt caused by private lives being made public. The Observer. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/11/elizabeth-day-cyberbullying-social-media?newsfeed=true
Meloy, J. & Gothard, S. (1995). A Demographic and Clinical Comparison of Obsessional Followers and Offenders with Mental Disorders, American Journal of Psychiatry, 152, 258–63.
Miller, D. (2010, March 10). The Darker Side of Facebook: Cyber-Bullying. Australian Women Online. Retrieved from http://www.australianwomenonline.com/the-darker-side-of-facebook/
Neo. (2011, January 3). How to Handle Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking. Retrieved from http://thepizzy.net/blog/2011/01/how-to-handle-online-harassment-cyber-stalking/
Ogilvie, E. (2000). Cyberstalking. Australian Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/4/7/A/%7B47A7FA60-8EBF-498A-BB9E-D61BC512C053%7Dti166.pdf
Postmedia News. (2012, March 24). Online bullying is now everyone’s problem. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/Online+bullying+everyone+problem/6353905/story.html
Sreedevi, K. (2012, March 25). Beware! E-mafia is at work on social media. DECCAN Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/cities/chennai/beware-e-mafia-work-social-media-439
Stone, D. M. (1999). Online Harassment. Urbana, IL: University Laboratory High School. Retrieved from http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/wp/crime/harassment.htm
Wylie, M. (2007). Online Family Safety – Eight ways to handle cyber-bullies. Retrieved from http://www.yoursecurityresource.com/cobrand/in/articles/cyberbullies/index.html
Zytrax (2012). Retrieved from http://www.zytrax.com/isp/faqs/static.htm