© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Senate bills seek to address electronic stalking

John Lee

Maryland law limits the definition of stalking to the physical act of following another person, despite many other forms of stalking, including electronic. Two bills in the Maryland Senate look to make sweeping changes to the way the state approaches the issue.

The first of the two, Senate Bill 328, looks to expand the definition of stalking to include electronic communication, the use of an outside device, and conduct generally related to stalking.

Melanie Shapiro, the Public Policy Director for Maryland’s Network Against Domestic Violence, testified Tuesday in favor of the bill.

“76% of women murdered by an intimate partner were stalked,” she told a Senate committee.

“And in addition, those that reported stalking 81% indicated that they were also experiencing some form of physical assault by that same partner. So stalking is an indication of lethality,” Shapiro argued.

The bill, she says, is important for two reasons: one is to modernize the law; the other is to be able to offer more services — namely protective orders— for victims.

“So if a victim is being stalked and wishes to pursue with a protective order, we need this inclusion of electronic surveillance to be included in the stalking definition for them to be eligible for the protective order,” she explained.

During the hearing, no one opposed the bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Montgomery County Democrat, and five others.

Sheriff Darren Popkin, of Montgomery County, supported the measure.

“As the laws have not kept up with this ever-changing technology, the ability to protect victims of domestic violence, as well as other crime victims and witnesses through stalking statutes becomes increasingly problematic,” Popkin explained.

But a second bill, intended to complement the expanded definition, is facing more pushback from the law enforcement community.

Senate Bill 134, the so-called Electronic Stalking bill, would require police officers to receive training on stalkerware: software programs that can be covertly installed on a person’s device, allowing the device to be secretly monitored.

Eva Galperin, the Director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is an expert in stalkerware. Sheco-founded the Coalition Against Stalkerware, and has created trainings like those that would be used by Maryland Police. She testified in favor of the bill during the hearing.

“You carry around a phone, it's essentially a tracking device, it gives your location at all times,” she said. “It contains all of your passwords for your accounts, all of your communications, … your photos, your contacts, it provides a very broad and sort of comprehensive picture of what is happening in your life. And we see this kind of software being used, I see it as a tool of coercive control in abusive relationships all the time.”

But, John Nesky, the Bowie Police Chief, said mandating another training is not the best way to go about this as the Police Academy curriculum is already bloated.

“When legislation keeps mandating entry-level components – the average Academy's six, eight months now – and that is trying to get all the mandatory objectives in–it just creates such a load on the Academy staff and it keeps pushing the academies longer and longer and longer,” Nesky said.

That bill’s sponsor, Montgomery County Democrat Susan Lee, said law enforcement needs to know how to handle these electronic stalking cases if violence is to be prevented.

“Sometimes law enforcement, they're not knowing what they're looking for, particularly when it comes to electronic stalking,” Lee explained, “We have to give the victim some kind of relief.”

According to House of Ruth, 56 Marylanders died as a result of domestic violence in 2020, the highest number in more than a decade.

Callan Tansill-Suddath is a State House Reporter for WYPR, where she covers the General Assembly.