What are the punishments for federal cyberstalking in New York?
Cyberstalking has become an increasing issue in recent years with the rise of technology and social media. While there are no federal laws specifically targeting cyberstalking, New York does have laws prohibiting various forms of online harassment that can apply to cyberstalking cases. Understanding the legal options and potential punishments is important for victims.
What is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking involves using electronic communications to stalk or harass another person in a repeated, threatening manner. This can occur through email, social media, texts, phone calls, GPS tracking, monitoring someone’s internet activity, and more.
Some examples of cyberstalking include:
- Repeatedly sending threatening or disturbing messages to a person
- Tracking a person’s location or activities through their phone or computer
- Accessing someone’s online accounts without permission
- Spreading false information or rumors about a person online
- Impersonating someone online to damage their reputation
- Sharing private photos or information about someone without consent
The effects of cyberstalking can be severe, causing victims to experience fear, emotional distress, anxiety and feel unsafe. Victims are often stalked by former friends, colleagues, partners or acquaintances.
New York Cyberstalking Laws
New York has three degrees of harassment offenses:
- Harassment in the first degree – When someone intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following them, engaging in conduct likely to cause annoyance/alarm, or communicating threats which cause reasonable fear of harm. This is a class B misdemeanor.
- Harassment in the second degree – When someone strikes, shoves, kicks or subjects another person to physical contact, or attempts/threatens to do so. This is a violation offense.
- Aggravated harassment in the second degree – When someone communicates with a person anonymously or otherwise, by phone, mail, computer, etc. with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the recipient. This is a class A misdemeanor.
Cyberstalking activities like repeatedly sending threatening messages or spreading damaging rumors online could potentially fall under the aggravated harassment law.
Unauthorized Computer Access
New York also prohibits unauthorized computer access under its computer tampering laws. Intentionally accessing a computer or network without permission, and altering, copying, damaging or destroying data, constitutes computer tampering in the fourth degree, a class A misdemeanor.
This covers cyberstalking behaviors like hacking into someone’s online accounts or devices.
Disseminating Intimate Images (Revenge Porn)
Sharing sexually explicit photos or videos of a person without their consent, also known as revenge porn, can constitute unlawful dissemination of an intimate image in New York. This is a class A misdemeanor.
Perpetrators sometimes distribute revenge porn to damage victims’ reputations, which could be considered cyberstalking.
Punishments for Cyberstalking in New York
- Harassment in the first degree – Up to 3 months in jail, 1 year probation, and/or a fine up to $500
- Harassment in the second degree – Up to 15 days in jail
- Aggravated harassment – Up to 1 year in jail, 3 years probation, and/or a fine up to $1000
- Unauthorized computer access – Up to 1 year in jail, 3 years probation, and/or a fine up to $1000
- Disseminating intimate images – Up to 1 year in jail, 3 years probation, and/or a fine up to $1000
Factors like the severity of the conduct, number of victims, and criminal history can also impact sentencing.
What Victims Can Do
- Collect evidence – Save phone records, screenshots, emails and other evidence of the cyberstalking. This will help support your case.
- Report to police – File a report with local law enforcement about the incidents. Stalking logs detailing each occurrence can help.
- Get a restraining order – Seek a restraining order from the courts requiring the perpetrator to stay away and cease contact. Violating the order can lead to further penalties.
- Strengthen security – Change passwords, adjust social media privacy settings, set up two-factor authentication on accounts and consider cybersecurity tools to help protect yourself online.
- Seek support – Confide in trusted friends and family. Consider contacting a domestic violence agency or therapist for counseling and support. You don’t have to cope alone.
- Consult an attorney – Discuss your legal options with an attorney. They can advise if you have grounds for a case and represent you through the legal process.
Federal Cyberstalking Laws
While there are no federal cyberstalking laws per se, some federal statutes can apply to interstate cyberstalking:
- Interstate stalking – Illegally crossing state borders to stalk or harass someone. Punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.
- Interstate violations of protection orders – Crossing state lines to violate a court-issued restraining order. Punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.
- Interstate communications – Making threatening interstate phone calls with intent to abuse, threaten or harass. Punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.
- Interstate domestic violence – Traveling across state lines to injure, harass or intimidate a spouse or intimate partner. Punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.
The Interstate Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act has been proposed to make interstate stalking and cyberstalking federal crimes, but has not yet been enacted.
For now, federal prosecutors may be able to pursue cyberstalking cases under related laws like those above. State laws remain the main recourse for most victims.
Recent New York Cyberstalking Cases
Here are some recent cyberstalking cases prosecuted in New York:
- In November 2021, a New York man was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for cyberstalking and sextortion across state lines. He hacked social media accounts to obtain explicit images and then threatened women to send more photos.
- In February 2023, a former New York law firm partner was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison for extensively cyberstalking and harassing three former colleagues online.
- In 2018, a New York man pled guilty to cyberstalking multiple young women by impersonating them online. He was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison.
- In 2016, a New York state court convicted a man of cyberstalking and identity theft for stealing photos of over 200 women to create fake online profiles. He received 2½ to 5 years in prison.
These cases help demonstrate how state and federal laws are applied to punish cyberstalking based on the details of each case.
Seeking Legal Help
Cyberstalking can be a terrifying ordeal. If you are being victimized, don’t hesitate to seek help from the police, victim support services and a qualified attorney. An experienced lawyer can advise you on the laws in your state, gather evidence, communicate with law enforcement and represent your interests in court. There are options available to hold offenders accountable.
With the proper legal support and preventative measures, victims can help mitigate the abuse and feel safer moving forward. Cyberstalking behaviors should never be tolerated. By understanding your rights and the potential penalties faced, you can take action to protect yourself under the law.