Vice President Gore said today that online stalking is a serious new problem and state and federal laws must be stiffened to "to give us tools to deal with this crime appropriately."
A new Justice Department report says state and federal laws need to be updated to outlaw online stalking because the practice is on the rise.
Gore requested the federal report on the problem in February and released it today. He met with students, police and campus officials at San Diego State University to discuss the report's findings and said more states should follow the lead of California, which recently amended its stalking statute to cover cyberstalking.
According to Gore, one in 12 women will be victims of some form of stalking during their lives, as will one in 45 men. "And increasing numbers of them will be victims of cyberstalking," Gore said. "Getting tougher sentences is part of the whole education process, so everybody takes this crime as seriously as it should be taken."
Two-thirds of states have no laws on the books that explicitly cover stalking on the Internet or through other electronic communications means, the report found. And federal law contains gaps that in some cases hinder investigators from tracking cyberstalkers who repeatedly harass and threaten others on the Internet, it said.
The report surveyed steps that law enforcement, online industries, victims groups and others are taking to crack down on cyberstalking, and explored whether existing laws are adequate to combat a problem it contends is on the rise.
Internet service providers, which link users to electronic mail and the World Wide Web, report a growing number of complaints about harassing and threatening behavior online, it said. The head of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office reported that about 20 percent of the unit's cases involve cyberstalking.
Federal law enforcement officials have reported many cases in which pedophiles have made advances to children through online chat rooms and later made contact with the children, the report said.
Technology allows some stalkers to harass victims anonymously, it said.
The report recommends that all states review their laws to ensure they prohibit and provide "appropriate" punishment for stalking through the Internet and other means of electronic communication, including pagers.
Last year President Clinton signed a bill into law that protects children against online stalking. But the report said the law should be expanded to outlaw interstate or international communication made with the intent to threaten or harass any other person.
Such new laws should include stiffer penalties when victims are minors, the report said. And federal law should make it easier for law enforcement to track down cyberstalkers.
The report cited as a hindrance the Cable Communications Policy Act, which bars investigators from obtaining cable subscriber records without a court order and advance notice to the subscriber.
The law hampers investigations, the report said, noting that high-speed cable links to the Internet are growing in popularity.