What is Stalkerware and is it Illegal in Florida?

January 20, 2022 Criminal Defense

What is Stalkerware?

Stalkerware, often called spyware, refers to tools, such as specific apps, programs, or devices that allow someone to secretly monitor or record information about your phone activity. These tools are not only intrusive but can be dangerous when they are used by someone to access your photos, videos, browser history, messages, calls, and location. According to Techsafety.org, a website that explores technology in the context of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and violence against women, spyware “installed on rooted [for Android] or jailbroken [for iPhone] devices can allow someone to turn on the webcam or microphone, take screenshots, see activity on third-party apps [such as Snapchat or WhatsApp], and intercept, forward, or record phone calls.” Regardless of the kind of phone you have, the majority of spyware requires the person have physical access to the device they are attempting to install the spyware or stalkerware on. Although this may pose a significant hurdle for hackers, once the program is installed, it runs on “stealth mode,” meaning that it does not notify the user that it is running and is often difficult to even detect, let alone remove.

Florida Law

Florida law allows an individual who puts stalkerware on another person’s electronic device to face criminal liability. Under Section 815.06 of the Florida Statutes, a person commits an offense against a user, meaning a person with the authority to operate or maintain a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device, if he or she willfully, knowingly, and without authorization or exceeding authorization does one or more of the following:

  1. Accesses or causes to be accessed any computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device with knowledge that such access is unauthorized or the manner of use exceeds authorization;
  2. Disrupts or denies or causes the denial of the ability to transmit data to or from an authorized user of a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device, which, in whole or in part, is owned by, under contract to, or operated for, on behalf of, or in conjunction with another;
  3. Destroys, takes, injures, or damages equipment or supplies used or intended to be used in a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device;
  4. Destroys, injures, or damages any computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device;
  5. Introduces any computer contaminant into any computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device; or
  6. Engages in audio or video surveillance of an individual by accessing any inherent feature or component of a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device, including accessing the data or information of a computer, computer system, computer network, or electronic device that is stored by a third party.

The relevant section of the statute pertaining to stalkerware, or spyware is section (f), which, if committed, will result in a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in probation, a $5,000 fine, and 5 years of probation. The installation of stalkerware and the access to private photos or other sensitive information may lead hackers to sextort their victims. Sextortion entails extorting or blackmailing someone by threatening to distribute their private or sensitive material if they do not meet their hacker’s demands, which often include providing the hacker with more photos, sex, or money. If you would like to read more about Florida’s sextortion law, the penalties associated with it, and recent cases of it in Florida, you can do so here.

Employers & Stalkerware

During the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees found themselves switching from going into work to working remotely from home. As a result, employers have utilized software that allows them to track their employees’ work when they are working remotely through a virtual private network (VPN) or limited internet access. Most often, the employee consents to this monitoring, which results in their employer having the ability to monitor them when they are working. But when does such monitoring cross a line that leads to legal repercussions? The answer is when the employee does not give their consent and the monitoring is no longer for work purposes, but to spy on the individual. An employer found to have engaged in this kind of monitoring through stalkerware can face both criminal and civil repercussions.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one are facing charges relating to stalkerware, it is imperative you contact an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team of Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of criminal defense experience and will explore every possible defense applicable to your case. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

Written by Karissa Key

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