Police: Technology makes stalking easier
Though the behavior widely identified as stalking has been around for centuries, some methods have definitely adopted a modern twist.
While technology itself is not the problem, experts say it does facilitate stalking.
"We're seeing a rise in crime via technology," said Mark Peterson, an investigator with the Rochester Police Department, "specifically with cell phones."
He and Sherry Bush, also an investigator with the department, shared advice — and warnings — Wednesday during the fourth in a series of events to commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
"Is Someone Watching?" outlined the use of technology in stalking, and was sponsored by the Olmsted Family Violence Coordinating Council.
Technology, Peterson said, "has made stalking a whole different kind of investigation."
Today, anyone can go online or visit an electronics store to buy software that allows tracking of a phone, or a GPS tracker that can be hidden on a vehicle.
Installed surreptitiously on someone's cell phone, "spyware" can provide remote access to everything, as well as real-time information on its location.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has sponsored a bill that would ban "stalking apps." The bill, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in December, would make it a crime for companies to make and intentionally operate a stalking application on a cell phone.
Stalking and wiretapping already are illegal, but there is no way to ensure the rules are followed. Most phone programs can be installed in moments, and operate invisibly to the cell phone's user. They can silently record text messages, call logs, physical locations and visits to websites. All the information is relayed to an email address chosen by the installer.
Franken's proposal would extend the criminal and civil liabilities for the improper use of the apps to include the software companies that sell them.
Even more important, said Bush, is victim involvement.
"Document, document, document," she said. "The victim has to take control of the situation" by making sure law enforcement has plenty to work with.
That includes tracking all unwanted contact, and reporting it to police — and others.
"Online stalking is definitely happening more often because there is such an array of powerful tools at stalkers' disposal making it easier to do," said Jennifer Perry, author of "Digital Stalking: A Guide to Technology Risks for Victims."
Technology firms and social networking sites need to do "much more" to protect potential victims, she said. "The only way we will change things is by making the public aware of the dangers."
First and foremost, experts say, document every unwanted contact. That includes times and dates of phone calls, text messages, the stalker driving past your home or job, and third-party contact.
• Save text messages, if possible. If nothing else, snap a digital photo of the text before it's deleted.
• Involve law enforcement. Present all documentation.
• Record phone conversations. This is legal in Minnesota.
• Reset your cell phone often; if necessary, change your phone number.
• Tighten privacy settings on your Facebook page.
• Don't respond to any unwanted contact. Ignore their attempts.