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Privacy Compromised - Stalking and Technology- A Dangerous Combination.

Stalking laws were initially enacted in the early 90’s. Prior to that, celebrities and movie stars could be followed, called repeatedly, receive letters and gifts, etc. resulting, as one can imagine, in fear and at the very least annoyance, all with no consequence to the stalker. Until the laws were changed to criminalize stalking, there was little law enforcement could do to deter stalkers. As a result of strangers stalking public personalities, we now have laws in all states with upwards of seven million people stalked each year.

A basic definition of stalking is: any behavior that causes a reasonable person to be uncomfortable, intimidated or afraid.

The current legal system generally applies three criteria to determine if criminal stalking is occurring

  1. Are the behaviors repeated?

  2. Would reasonable people in the demographics of the target also feel uncomfortable, intimidated, or afraid?

  3. Regardless of the intent of the stalker, is the effect of the repeated behaviors causing the target to be uncomfortable, intimidated and/or afraid? If all criteria are present, law enforcement has the legal right to investigate the stalking report.

With such high numbers of people affected by stalkers, an issue is reluctance for the victims to report, resulting in relatively small reporting numbers. Why is that? There are a number of reasons:

  • Stalking is subjective. What might be stalking to one person, another might say is “overreaction”.

  • People don’t often admit to being fearful.

  • People react differently to annoyance and fear.

  • Stalking behavior often has specific meaning that is only understood between the perpetrator and the target.

  • Many do not think stalking is against the law.

  • Frequently, individuals who are stalked feel no one will believe them.

Stalking and Technology: A Dangerous Combo

Recently, the media is reporting a high number of stalking situations involving Apple AirTags. These simple Apple devices ( and there are more), are a gift to stalkers and a fear producer for their targets. I have to say, I wish I had a finder for my remote, my keys, and thank you auto manufacturers for the panic button so I can find my car. However, an AirTag can be used in dangerous ways.

Does convenience of an AirTag overcome the potential for loss of personal safety?

In reality, it is extremely easy for stalkers to locate their prey, regardless of the AirTag. Stalking by someone known to the victim has been happening for centuries and occurs far more frequently than stalking by a stranger. Let me repeat that: stalking by someone known to the victim has been happening for centuries and occurs far more frequently than stalking by a stranger.

Today’s technology has changed the game for most stalkers. It is their friend.

The vast majority of stalking is domestic/partner violence driven. The stalker knows his target and most likely has had access to their phone and computer. Yes, the AirTag is a very good tool for all stalkers, especially strangers, but what is better for the majority of stalkers than their prey's own cell phone and computer? With phones, stalkers simply need the phone number of their target. Once the stalker has the number they load the number on free iPhone or Android applications and within seconds they can know the exact location of the phone. These apps are free and available to parents to check where their children are, employers to track employees, and unfortunately to stalkers for locating their target.

Another tool used often by stalkers is the target’s own computer. Spyware can be easily and quickly loaded onto it by anyone having access to the computer. This technology can be loaded remotely as well as through being encoded in an email message, game, or web site. Once the stalker has this spyware loaded on the target's computer, all emails and messages can be monitored as well as their contacts and calendar entries. This technology typically runs in stealth mode so the user never knows it’s installed.

What are some strategies one can use to minimize the likelihood of being stalked?

  • Give no personal information that can be traced back.

  • Understand that your cell phone is the best tool for stalkers, so getting a new phone number can minimize this tool for stalkers.

  • Save all communications to hard copy and document every interaction.

  • Be aware of how much identifying information you are posting on the Internet through social networking sites and online purchases.

  • Use your privacy settings when at all possible.

  • Tell friends, coworkers, classmates, family and neighbors not to give your address or phone number to anyone.

  • Save evidence of stalking and online harassment. Keep all voicemails, text and email messages sent by the stalker.

  • If someone or some situation makes you uncomfortable, trust your instincts.

  • Consider getting a protective order against the person stalking you.

  • Contact the police

Stalking perpetrated by someone who was an intimate partner is generally the most dangerous form of stalking, especially if the partner used violence and intimidation during the relationship. Stalking typically escalates and does not end unless: the target moves away, the stalker moves, the stalker is killed, sick or injured, the stalker gets professional psychiatric help, or if law enforcement is involved to provide a consequence to behavior that is significant enough to stop the stalker.

The bottom line is never minimize stalking.

Are there stalking incidents being reported on your campus or in your community?

Bring No Zebras to your campus or community We work with educators and community organizations to to educate, affirm and support college students and the community. Programs available via Zoom as well.


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