By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
A bill that would prohibit the use of electronic devices to “stalk” people cleared a House committee on Monday.
The House Judiciary Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to send Senate File 100 to the House floor for a vote.
Bill sponsor Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, told the committee the proposed legislation was inspired by his 30 years as an administrator at Casper College, where he saw numerous examples of young victims being stalked.
The majority of stalking victims tend to be young women between the ages of 18 and 24, Landen said. He told the story of one young woman who was unable to get a protective order against her stalker until after the third time he broke into her house.
SF100 would build on existing stalking laws to also make stalking by electronic devices, such as global positioning systems and Apple AirTag, illegal.
AirTag and other tracking “tiles” are usually used to help people track personal items such as keys, wallets, purses and backpacks.
However, stalking crimes involving such devices are becoming increasingly more popular in Wyoming, making it necessary for the legislature to update existing laws that currently are not on the books, speakers told the committee.
Speaking to the committee by Zoom, Taylor Courtney, investigations sergeant for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, said the proposed bill does not redefine what stalking is, but adds clarity to definitions about how it can occur.
While police are seeing small “trackers” used in stalking, what they see more often is stalking via cell phones, tablets and OnStar vehicle systems in cars, Courtney said.
“These devices have a GPS system that is already inside of them,” he said. “And all the phones now because of the emerging technology are turning into handheld lifestyle trackers because of the GPS access to the applications that are on your phone.”
Stalkers can then access Google and iCloud accounts to track a victim’s finances, photos, emails, videos and anything else that is accessible through a computer or cell phone.
He referenced the case of one young woman in Casper whose stalker had gained access to her accounts, including her email and Netflix account, and was sending her intimidating emails documenting where she was and what movie she might be watching.
“She and her mother were scared out of their minds because they believed he was sitting right outside of her window actually watching them,” Courtney said.
Upton Police Chief Susan Bridge, who also spoke in favor of the proposed law, said that she and her department have also seen an increase in these types of electronic stalking cases. In one case, the estranged husband of a wife in the process of getting a divorce had their son put multiple tracking devices on the woman’s car so he could follow her every movement.
“We are seeing this more and more often, and just yesterday, our department took another case involving non-specified electronic harassment within the statute,” she said, adding Weston County’s attorneys were hesitant to pursue the case given the lack of legal ramifications.
This proposed legislation, Bridge said, would fill these gaps in law.
After a discussion made clear that parents tracking their children using these devices would not fall under the legal definition of stalking, the bill passed by a 9-0 vote.