Cyber-stalkers face stiff jail terms
Victorians convicted of electronic stalking could be jailed for up to 10 years under tough legislation proposed by the State Government.
Presenting the Crimes (Stalking and Family Violence) Bill to Parliament yesterday, Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the bill would be Australia's first legislation against cyber-stalking.
Mr Hulls said that stalking had taken on new dimensions because the number of people who owned and used computers had increased dramatically and internet use had surged.
"Along with the increasing use of technology and access to information on the internet comes an increasing risk of abuse and threat to personal information and privacy,"he said. "The term cyber-stalking has emerged in recent years as a result of the use of technology by stalkers to locate, pursue, or harass their victims. Cyberspace is appealing to stalkers as it provides them with the means to communicate immediately and directly with their victims whilst maintaining physical distance."
The proposed law will cover:
-Sending obscene, threatening or harassing emails.
-Loading doctored images or other material relating to a person.
-Posting false information about a person or assuming a person's identity on the internet.
-Tracing a person's use of the internet.
-Causing an unauthorised computer function in another's computer.
The passage of the bill is guaranteed, given the Government's clear majority in both houses of Parliament.
Mr Hulls said the bill showed the Government took cyber-stalking seriously.
The legislation allows cyber-stalkers living in other states and overseas to be charged if it is shown they are cyber-stalking a person in Victoria. It will also allow the charging of a person in Victoria stalking a person interstate or overseas.
In these situations, close co-operation between Victorian police and police in other jurisdictions will be required.
The law will also introduce a basic change to present anti-stalking laws.
A key requirement under the present law - for the victim to be aware of the person's stalking behaviour for it to be considered an offence - will be removed.
The number of stalking complaints made in Victorian courts has surged in recent years, jumping from 1391 in 1995-96 to 5318 in 2000-01, an increase of 282 per cent.
In 2001-02, 258 stalking charges were proved, and 25 of these resulted in jail terms.
Shadow attorney-general Andrew McIntosh said the Opposition would carefully consider the bill before deciding its position.
Victoria introduced anti-stalking legislation in 1994. But the Government believes the rapid development in technology warrants legislative change.
A broad definition of stalking behaviour is intentionally harassing or threatening a person, intentionally following them or loitering outside or near the person's home or workplace or keeping the person under surveillance.
March 28 2003
By Darren Gray
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