Your right to freedom of expression

Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."

Cyberstalking is often used to silence women and girls. Whether bloggers, gamers, tweeps or general users, women are often intimidated into leaving online spaces and closing their computers. But women have the same rights as men to access those spaces and be heard on any issue.

You have the right to express yourself freely online and off, which makes cyberstalking a free speech issue.

Your right to privacy and freedom from defamation

Article 12, Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

People who stalk women online take advantage of the anonymity the internet can give them. Some of the same people who violate women's privacy online do so while fiercely maintaining their own right to privacy.

An APC study looking at recent legislation in South Africa, New Zealand and Canada reflects the need for internet intermediaries and others to play a role in preventing and rectifying online violence. The legislation recognises that the internet makes it easy for stalkers to be anonymous and holds internet service providers accountable to reveal information about the identity of the harasser, cease providing service to the harasser and/or remove harmful content.

In Europe, there is also a Right to be Forgotten, which can be used to demand that search engines remove links with personal information because it is irrelevant. Interestingly, the burden of proof is now on the search engine to prove that the data cannot be deleted because it is still relevant. The law applies to all companies, including those outside the EU, which serve European citizens.

Your right to freedom from violence

United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women: "States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination. States should pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women... [This includes] any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."

Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: "Parties shall take the necessary legislative and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and the private sphere."

Recent domestic legislation specifically tackling online violence against women recognises:
  • the need to provide practical redress to targets of harassment

  • the responsibility of websites and internet providers in cyber-harassment cases

  • the need for public education

In South Africa, New Zealand, California and Nova Scotia, for instance, all new legislation recognises that harm caused by online harassment includes emotional distress even when there is no actual physical harm.