Sanctuary for the Abused
Friday, February 16, 2018
CYBERSTALKING IN THE 21st CENTURY - Part Three
High-tech gadgets give stalkers more power
By Dave Breakenridge -- Sun Media
It's a technology with the noblest of uses -- tracking kidnapped children or finding avalanche victims.
But like they've done with computers, stalkers have found a new use for global positioning systems (GPS).
Four recent cases in the U.S. have shown the dark side of the technology, all of them involving men attaching a GPS-enabled device to their exes' vehicles to aid them in their stalking behaviour.
Such gadgets use a constellation of satellites to pinpoint location and, using cellular networks, can send their co-ordinates to wireless handsets or computers.
Misuse of the devices allows a stalker precise information about the location of their target, making it easier to terrorize. Authorities involved in the cases have said the technology has created the brand of 21st century stalking.
Because of that, Pamela Cross of the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children and the Ontario Women's Justice Network in Toronto, said victims' groups, which deal with thousands of people every year, need to be more up to speed about what technology is being used by abusers.
"I would say so -- technology is almost the greatest gift to a persistent stalker," she said.
"The thing you have to remember is you're talking about people who aren't overly concerned that what they're doing is illegal."
She said stalkers are the type of people who will use any means necessary to achieve their goals.
Persistent stalkers, she said, are usually intelligent, manipulative people who seem to find a way to get information from the people who have it.
With the case of technology, the intelligent, persistent stalker manipulates it to his own advantage.
"I think the GPS stories are disheartening -- it's so insidious because even things like MapQuest and other similar services can give you directions right to a person's house," Cross said.
"The other thing that exists that I find quite bizarre are these 'I Spy' software programs that advertise ways to track someone down electronically."
Edmonton-based Crown prosecutor Val Campbell, also the co-ordinator of the family violence initiative for Alberta Justice, said technological means are just another way for an abuser to exert control over a victim.
"The GPS thing is pretty frightening," Campbell said, adding it's likely just a matter of time before a Canadian stalker starts using tracking technology.
"For sure, if it isn't happening already."
But Cindy Southworth, director of technology at the National Network to End Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C., said in all likelihood, there's an obsessed ex somewhere in Canada, watching in real-time his computer monitor.
"I believe strongly that Canadians are incredibly tech-savvy ... it's possibly not being reported," Southworth said.
"When you look at societies that have high technology use, there are going to be situations where technology is used in violent incidents."
Southworth, who started training law enforcement more than four years ago, has co-ordinated her efforts in Washington with Tracy Bahm of the Stalking Resource Centre.
"She and I are seeing lots and lots of technology showing up in stalking and domestic violence cases," Southworth said.
In addition to the GPS cases, tech-savvy stalkers are turning to devices such as spyware to monitor their targets' computer use, and putting hidden video cameras to a wide variety of prying-eye uses, including keeping tabs on who an ex might be inviting into the bedroom.
Australian and British law enforcement agencies are sounding the alarm over camera-equipped cell phones as a new form of stalking, something which would fall under Canada's proposed anti-voyeur law, should it be passed.
"Secret webcams in dorm rooms, upskirt photos and posting photos to the Internet to hurt someone, that's all going to be illegal," said Crown prosecutor Steve Bilodeau, who specializes in cybercrime.
Though the technology is new, GPS devices have been commercially available for about five years and Southworth said every advancement in technology has brought about new misuses by stalkers.
"When caller identification was first introduced, abusers would monitor the caller ID box," she said.
"As technology advances, it's going to be almost impossible for victims to flee and get to safety."
But she said there are always signs.
"Trust your instincts -- if your ex knows too much about your activities or things you only told a few people, you might be under surveillance," she said.
An even stronger sign is if the stalker follows his target to places the victim has never been before.
That was the tip-off for Connie Adams, a Wisconsin woman who in 2002 was stalked by her ex-boyfriend with a real-time GPS tracker.
He showed up while she was at a particular bar for the first time.
"He told me no matter where I went or what I did, he would know where I was," Adams testified at her ex's hearing.
Police say Paul Seidler put a global positioning tracking device between the radiator and grill of Adams' car.
He was handed nine months in jail in 2003 for stalking.
Southworth also said an ex with a history of controlling behaviour and who is fairly comfortable with technology could resort to technology to track and torment.
But sometimes stalkers will identify how they're keeping tabs on their victims.
"Follow the patterns," she said.
"If it's every time you call or e-mail someone your stalker is calling you asking specifics about the conversation you just had, or where you've been, then that's a pretty strong signal.
"That's one of the ways they tip their hand: They taunt their victims with information they're not supposed to know."
For victims who think someone might be using a GPS unit to follow them, or using a camera to secretly videotape them, as long as the device is transmitting a radio frequency, it can can be detected.
The devices that scan for signals can be expensive, but for some, the peace of mind would far outweigh the cost.
People worried about the cost can look at various places on their vehicles, including under the bumper or under the front and rear dashboards.
Southworth's group advises if anything is found, it should be kept, photographed, but not removed from where it is.
That's a task best left to the police, who should be contacted immediately.