by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
Cyberstalking is another of the darker sides of the Internet that many of us have to face in our lives online. It can take the form of persistent abusive emails, posting of embarrassing or private information or images on the Web, or attempts to hack into your computer. There are some laws that attempt to protect victims of cyberstalking, but in a familiar story, the legal system has fallen behind technology to some extent.
The protection that the law does provide is somewhat different in different States of Australia, but in general you can expect that repeated unwanted online contact from a person who intends to cause you fear or distress will be illegal. One area in which the law falls down is that it is often difficult to prove where Internet communications have originated from, as the perpetrators of cyberstalking can easily disguise themselves. Another problem is that you can be harrassed by a person from across the world, which makes it more difficult to take action against them.
Despite these issues, there are some simple steps you can use to avoid cyber stalking. Give a minimum of your personal information away on-line. Do a Google search to find out what information about you is already on the Web, and ask for it to be removed if you don't want it there. Use a virus scanner, and change your passwords often.
Finally, do report any harrassing conduct to the ISP of the perpetrator (usually using an "abuse@" email address at the ISP's domain), as many ISPs will cancel the account of a person who is using it for cyberstalking. If you believe the stalking is serious enough, also consider reporting it to the police, as the perpetrator may be guilty of a crime.