Clickability tracking pixel

Electronic Stalking Bill Makes its Way to Connecticut House

The bill would make it illegal to repeatedly use a GPS "or similar electronic monitoring system" to remotely track another person, causing that person to fear for his or her safety.

by Christopher Keating, The Hartford Courant / May 15, 2015
(TNS) -- A measure that sailed through the House of Representatives would put a new crime on the books in Connecticut: electronic stalking.

The bill would make it illegal to repeatedly use a global positioning system "or similar electronic monitoring system" to remotely track another person, causing that person to fear for his or her safety.

The crime would be a class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in prison and a fine of $1,000.

The bill passed the House 140-3 late Wednesday night, with eight members absent. It must be passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy before it would become effective Oct. 1.

Because cellphones have tracking devices, it would be a crime to purposely drop a cellphone in a person's bag in order to follow them, said Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, the ranking Republican on the judiciary committee. Placing a tracking device on a person's car for the purpose of stalking would also be a crime.

But lawmakers cautioned that certain uses that have become common would not be considered crimes.

"This does not apply to parents who are trying to keep an eye on their teenagers,'' said Rep. Stephen Dargan, the co-chairman of the public safety committee.

The measure also does not apply to nursing homes that use GPS devices to track patients with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, he said.

As technology has improved, GPS has become widespread in finding stolen cars, monitoring rental cars, and in tracking criminals who are fitted with an ankle bracelet.

Rep. Melissa Ziobron, an East Haddam Republican, asked whether a person would be guilty of a crime by following another person through social media like Facebook and Twitter.

"When you use Facebook in a certain way, it will show a person who is following you in real time,'' Ziobron said. "It's almost better than GPS.''

But lawmakers said that would not be a crime because the bill says the stalker needs to take an action with the GPS device.

Rep. Rob Sampson, a Wolcott Republican, voted against the bill because he said it was poorly drafted — an issue that was discussed on the House floor. The entire bill is only two sentences, containing less than 70 words.

"I was concerned that it was poorly and loosely drafted,'' Sampson said Thursday. "The term 'electronic device' is a pretty broad term. I'm certainly sympathetic to the intent of the bill. … We've got to write laws that are concrete. They should not be ambiguous.''

He added: "It's hard to vote against — just like bills that have animal or children in the title.''

Connecticut is part of a growing trend to expand the stalking laws. Similar GPS laws have been passed in New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Colorado.

In New York, a Republican campaign committee placed a GPS device on the car of a Democrat to see whether the candidate was actually living in the political district. That action was legal at the time because New York's law had not passed.

Nationwide, about 25 percent of stalking crimes are related to the latest technology, according to New York officials.

The New York measure is known as Jackie's Law, named after Jackie Wisniewski, who found that her former boyfriend had placed a tracking device on her car. The tracking was legal at the time. Wisniewski was killed in 2012 in a murder-suicide by the former boyfriend, a trauma surgeon who worked at the same medical center that she did.

Natasha M. Pierre, a lawyer who serves as Connecticut's victim advocate, said that GPS can be used "to terrorize, torment and instill fear'' in a stalking victim.

"With the advancements in technology, stalking today requires little effort on the part of the stalker,'' Pierre said in earlier testimony to the legislature.

"This virtual tool, GPS, is easily accessible and allows a stalker to know the victim's every movement while maintaining their own anonymity. … Victims may move, change jobs and alter traveling routes in an attempt to thwart a suspected stalker, all the while, not realizing that the stalker has unfettered access to their whereabouts," Pierre said. "Victims may suffer fear, anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction and depression as a result of the stalking and often feel the stalking will never end.''

She added, "While it is nearly impossible to predict the future of technology, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that such advancements are not used unlawfully.''

©2015 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.

Platforms & Programs