Safe habits shake off cyberstalking

Increasingly connected world has its pitfalls, and combating online dangers calls for user awareness and education to complement legislation, says official.

In today's increasingly connected world, tackling online dangers such as cyberstalking requires more than legal ammunition. That is why authorities such as Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA), are continuously looking to educate users on safe and responsible Net use.

Chetra S., acting director for outreach at MDA, told ZDNet Asia that given the borderless nature of the Internet, regulations and laws alone are not sufficient to address online dangers such as cyberstalking. She said it is also essential to raise public awareness and engage members of the public in such issues.

MDA, Singapore's media regulatory body, works with the public, private and people sectors to help individuals--particularly the youth--with issues including cyberstalking, noted Chetra. The MDA executive defined cyber-stalking as harassment using online means, such as via e-mail, instant messaging or messages posted to a Web site or discussion group.

"Through outreach efforts such as talks and seminars, we encourage the public to be more astute and mindful of the different types of situations, people and behaviors that one encounters online," said Chetra. "Only then can one recognize signs of potential dangers and take the appropriate protective measures."

One initiative, launched last month by the National Crime Prevention Council, made use of a virtual world game called Cyberonia to teach 11-year-olds to deal with cyber-bullying, gaming addiction, virus protection and other aspects of computer security through quizzes, mini-games and online interaction. Cyberonia is supported by the Inter-Ministry Cyber Wellness Steering Committee (ICSC), which was formed in 2009 to devise a national cyber wellness public education strategy.

The initiative, Chetra added, is expected to reach out to 40,000 Primary 5 students by end-2011.

Laws adequate
According to Bryan Tan, director of Keystone Law Corporation, Singapore "has most known varieties of cybercrime criminalized". Citing the Computer Misuse Act (CMA) as an example of the island-state's legislative muscle, he said: "Under the Computer Misuse Act, it is an offence for anyone to gain or attempt to gain unauthorized access to computer material. Spoofing and the use of password sniffers are also offences under CMA."

The Act, he added, also recognizes that the Internet has no national boundaries, and can be used against cybercriminals based outside of the country whose activities affect users in Singapore.

When it comes to cyberstalking, Tan said there is "no universally accepted definition", although the term generally refers to the use of the Internet or other electronic communications to stalk an individual. Stalking involves behavior calculated to harass or threaten the victim, he said in an e-mail.

"Generally, stalking behavior must be persistent, intentional and prolonged," he explained. "Although in cyberspace communicating parties are not within physical sight of each other, they are regarded by law as within 'aural' sight of each other. E-mail, SMSes, chatrooms etc. become tools which the perpetuators can use to reach out 'aurally' to victims."

As with physical stalking, the boundary of cyberstalking is not precisely set out, Tan added. But for a boundary is to be defined, a law is needed to balance the victim's interest in his or her privacy with the other party's right to free speech.

Tan further pointed out that as acts such as cyberstalking or preying on minors are already criminal in nature, there is no need to strengthen existing laws. However, he said one area which may be lacking is "a pre-emptive move against cybercrime"--for instance, the collection of personal information with the intention of using it in future for illegal purposes. That said, it is a tricky endeavor as there is the risk of "criminalizing innocuous behavior", explained Tan.

When asked for recent examples of cyberstalking cases, Tan told ZDNet Asia he was hard-pressed to come up with one, adding this was because it is "hard to prove cyberstalking and the laws are still the old world laws which have a high threshold".

The Singapore courts melted out its first penalty in a cyberstalking case in 2001, when a jilted lover was sentenced to five months' jail for illegally accessing his former girlfriend's e-mail account.

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