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Why Is Stalking Legal?
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Activists harass White House officials and senators as they eat dinner at restaurants. Another senator was recently stalked into the ladies’ room, where her pursuers shouted derision at her stall. Many other politicians have suffered protest demonstrations at their homes.

Now that they’re beleaguered, this may be the perfect time to convince lawmakers to act to protect Americans’ most personal information: their home address and phone number.

Type your name into a search engine. Odds are, a few of the results will include private companies that reveal your home address or part thereof, your phone number or part thereof, employment and education history, along with information about “known associates” such as your friends and family members. For a fee, these personal search services offer to fill in the gaps with data culled from public records such as those of the Department of Motor Vehicles, marriage records, voter registration rolls and consumer credit reports.

Easy access to mountains of personal data is such a gold mine for identity thieves, stalkers and other predators that women’s shelters spend much of their time helping their clients to navigate convoluted state-run programs that allow victims of abuse to replace their home addresses with P.O. boxes in public databases like those run by the DMV.

Trying to disappear from the internet is an uphill battle. Millions of Americans report having been stalked.

It’s a murder pandemic: 54% of female homicide victims were killed by former romantic partners who stalked them first, many by using public records searches.

You can ask each of these companies to opt out by deleting their listings for you. But the processes are cumbersome and make you reveal more information, such as your current phone number, that could increase your exposure. It’s like Whac-a-Mole; every time you get one taken offline, another pops up. And there are a lot: 121 companies registered to comply with a 2019 Vermont law set up to monitor the data brokerage business. Preventing predatory purveyors of personal information from selling your safety shouldn’t be a full-time job.

Nor should you have to install a VPN or script-blocker or, as privacy experts advise, avoid posting anything on the web.

Pre-internet, you controlled access to your contact information. If you didn’t want strangers to know your digits, you could request that the phone company keep you unlisted from 411 information and the white pages. One too many late-night raids by students wielding toilet paper convinced my mother, a high school teacher, to avail herself of that service. It worked.

The system wasn’t perfect. A determined stalker could follow you home. Announcements of home purchases, including the name of the buyer, were listed in local newspapers. But dead-tree publications weren’t keyword-searchable from anywhere on the planet. It took considerable effort to track a person to their residence.

ORDER IT NOW

Privacy was central to American culture. A high-profile, high-risk celebrity, the Soviet dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn relied on an unlisted number and the respectful attitude of his neighbors in a small town in Vermont to keep KGB assassins and the innocuously curious at bay. “No Restrooms, No Bare Feet, No Directions to the Solzhenitsyn Home,” read a sign at the local general store. Nowadays they’d track him all the way to the gulag.

Edward Snowden’s revelations that the National Security Agency intercepts our phone calls, emails and texts and spies on us through the cameras on our computers erased Americans’ expectations of privacy from their government. Yet many people aren’t scared of the feds, figuring that they have nothing to fear since they’re not doing anything illegal.

But that doesn’t mean we want everyone to have access to our personal records. At least nine out of ten people tell pollsters that they want control over their information and that it’s important to them.

Information brokerage is a \$200 billion a year industry — one that offers obvious benefits to marketers and entrepreneurs researching the viability of a startup. They wield influence in Washington, where they dropped at least \$29 million in lobbying campaigns in 2020, as much as Facebook and Google combined.

And for the most part, data brokers follow the law. That’s the problem.

Information brokerage is basically unregulated. Attempts to require opt-outs, require transparency in calculations of consumer creditworthiness and ban the collection of data under false pretenses have repeatedly died on Capitol Hill. We need legislation that protects vulnerable people, like women and men whose lives are ruined and sometimes ended because their addresses are made freely available online.

But privacy shouldn’t just be for victims. Everyone deserves the right to eat dinner and go to the bathroom in peace, or relax at the end of the day without having to deal with a mob of angry demonstrators outside their house.

Even a senator.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Judicial System 
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  1. As long as the ‘stalker’ isn’t sending harassing (in content or frequency) messages there is no harm being done.

    • Replies: @Foodhandler
  2. Private citizens should have iron clad privacy. The personal information of government employees should be public record. Government employees should not be protected by harassment laws or tax payer provided security. If you want power over the citizens then it should come with some fairly serious drawbacks. Government employees fearing the citizens is a good thing.

  3. Simpleton says:

    “ One too many late-night raids by students wielding toilet paper convinced my mother, a high school teacher, to avail herself of that service. It worked.”

    Bull. Shit.

    • Replies: @Curle
  4. meamjojo says:

    “Information brokerage is a \$200 billion a year industry — one that offers obvious benefits to marketers and entrepreneurs researching the viability of a startup”

    So true. For example, if you sell stuff on Craigslist, you will invariably get emails from people who claim they want to buy what you are selling in the next 3 hours or tomorrow latest. They ask for your telephone# and address, then never show up. Try to call them back and they will say they changed their minds if their phone number works at all. Happens way too often and I have concluded they must be collecting personal info and selling it to brokers.

    I now refuse to call/text CL buyers and don’t give out my phone #. All communications are done via CL email. I have buyers meet me away from house, never giving out my address. I tell them to email me when they arrive at the meeting place, that way I don’t waste my time waiting on the street for someone who will never show up.

    It’s sad but necessary.

  5. Curle says:
    @Simpleton

    Looks like you are living up to your moniker.

  6. This is a conversation that should’ve been had at the birth of widespread intertubes access.

    It’s too late now.

    Get a VPN at least.

  7. @anyone with a brain

    Post your name and address then. Nobody will because everybody knows Even nobody wants their online comments and driveway associated. Post your name and address, then. Because some people have nothing but time, money and hate. It’s like saying you don’t need privacy if you’re not breaking the law.

    • Replies: @anyone with a brain
  8. Mac_ says:

    Many points in article, couple other privacy slides last few years, most states now say legal for neighbors to point a camera at your home, windows, driveway to surveil coming or going, over backyard. They use the claim ‘viewable from street’, though back yards are not, and as to whatever view from neighbor yards, regular eyesight isn’t -zoom camera, or 24/7 recording. They claim only an invasion if ‘video of sex in bedroom’, which ignores other stalking or thieving. Leads to the question what’s the point of property. The event of smart phones probably conditioned people quite a bit. Certainly a different world now.

    Appreciate the article.

    – small side note, a while back someone commented on by line per changing cartooning note, which on one hand sort of agree as generally don’t like them, though are exceptions,such as one you/Ted had some time ago on your site that was core, elections oriented, point being once in a while a sketch can be better than words.

  9. @Foodhandler

    It is not private ornery citizens that worry me but government agencies

  10. Ted Rall: “Why Is Stalking Legal?”

    It ain’t.

    https://www.findlaw.com/state/california-law/california-stalking-laws.html

    Stalking is a crime in all states, characterized as a pattern of malicious and willful behavior rather than a one-time event. Often it is charged against estranged partners and spouses, but it can also apply to complete strangers as is sometimes the case with celebrity stalkers. …

    Most of the activities mentioned in the article are constitutionally protected, even if obnoxious to the recipient.

  11. Cris M. says:

    ~ on Morgan post, actually most of things in article were protected by the constitution, if including bill of rights, to be secure in papers, person, property. Leaving aside failure of people to enforce that by not letting government make ‘other’ laws to controvert; as you narrow to only article examples would again note cameras pointed at your home, which by definition of a reasonable person is stalking, which stalking goes to article title, such invasion of privacy and security, is not only obnoxious, it’s loss of property rights.

    A term people forgot, the purpose of property, “quiet enjoyment”. If search the term remove word –tenant. Of course someone aiming cameras to surveil your property and home which anyone can do now, is stalking, unless you’re a perv yourself and don’t mind being recorded 24/7 or don’t care about being ripped off. The problem combination, is more forms of stalking now, same time courts and narrowed definition, and decreased penalties so less deterrent of behavior, same time increased laws against people protecting themselves or property. We can assume judges, lawyers, politicians don’t have neighbors pointing cameras at their property and in their windows. Insiders, ‘special judgments and exceptions for each other to enforce their privacy.

    In my opinion we would have been better off if we stopped at caveman tribal times. We knew fire by then, there was lots of territory, and were free to deal with predators how we saw fit. Maybe a bit cold here or there but we could shift area, or use fire. They had it good. Amazing people threw it away for ‘selfies’ and soy ‘meat’. I didn’t though, made effort directly and in trying wake people over thirty years.

    If anyone has a time machine let me know. Otherwise I’m off to roast a turkey leg and sew some moccasins.

    .

  12. Cris M.: “… cameras pointed at your home, which by definition of a reasonable person is stalking …”

    What’s “reasonable” or not is a matter of opinion. Not only have the courts not held that such a use of cameras is stalking per se, but it would be very difficult for them to do it even if they wanted to. For example, your neighbor across the street may have a camera pointing out his front yard for his own security, but because he’s across from you your house is being recorded 24/7 too. Is he therefore guilty of “stalking” you? Of course not. Cameras are everywhere in modern life now, and for their use to be considered stalking you’d have to show a fear of harm. If just taking pictures without permission is “stalking” then most people have probably done it at one time or another, and everyone is being “stalked” every day.

    Cris M.: “If anyone has a time machine let me know. Otherwise I’m off to roast a turkey leg and sew some moccasins.”

    It’s great to have such loyal fans! LOL.

  13. Cris M. says:

    – on R Morgan reply. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, I wasn’t referring to people using a camera on their house and inadvertent overreach. I was referring to the fact that now in most states a neighbor can aim cameras at your home, property, at your windows, video your property 24/7, not aimed at their own house at all, and there is nothing you can do about it. I’m very aware of the what courts are doing, and the point was the chasm between the expectation of the average person today and the reality of what has changed over time. Would refer again to my previous post and property rights. Hope that clears the misunderstanding. Given that, a reasonable person would consider it stalking. In my post I did remove being a perv or not caring if you’re robbed from category of being a reasonable person. The situation happens, I’ve known of more than one, and nothing you can do until something else happens. Just another item similar to the article title category and thought it worth mention.

    On your last note, am usually fairly quick on humor though didn’t catch your meaning on fans. What I meant was I’ve done my share on the larger situations, and would be nice to head to another time. Otherwise meat leg and mocs a nod to caveman days. And I do roast turkey leg, and have mocs.

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