BETHESDA, Md. – The Maryland General Assembly has updated the criminal definition of stalking to include electronic communications and the use of devices that can pinpoint or track your location without your consent.
Criminal stalking used to require that the stalker physically follow the victim but new technology has made that interpretation outdated.
Advocates for victims of domestic violence are celebrating now that Governor Larry Hogan has signed the bill into law. According to them, abusers were using technology to harm their victims.
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Now, victims of domestic violence can rely on the modern definition of stalking when they apply for a protective order to block an abuser from getting near them.
Dorothy Lenning, the director at House of Ruth Maryland, a nonprofit that works to end violence against women and their children, told FOX 5 that in custody cases some abusers will put a recording device in a child’s toy to hear everything that’s going on in the house.
She also said some stalkers are tracking victims’ internet activity by placing an apparatus on their computer that tracks keystrokes.
Lenning adds that abusers are placing tracking devices – like Apple Air Tags – on vehicles without their victims even knowing. In smart homes, she said, they can blast the heat or air conditioning or play music at all hours of the day or night by hacking the system.
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Electronic stalking or geotagging was not covered under the old definition in the criminal code. The new definition could also be helpful for state judges who have some discretion when deciding whether to issue a protective order. The new definition can give them more clarity.
“Certainly, the update gives judges more guidance and a more narrow definition of stalking so that they don’t necessarily need to rely on that discretion as much as they have been up until now,” said Kush Arora, a defense attorney in Maryland.
The new law will take effect on October 1, 2022.