Friday, March 30, 2007

Up Close & Personal - Reflections

In 1999, Adam Penenberg wrote, "America, the country that made 'right to privacy' a credo, has lost its privacy to the computer. But it's far worse than you think. Advances in smart data-sifting techniques and the rise of massive databases have conspired to strip you naked."

The Internet is a virtual warehouse of information that can be accessed through data transmission without leaving home. People with an online presence via a personal weblog or community message group oftentimes share too much information about themselves, thus providing enough clues for a predator to track them down. ThatBobbieGirl demonstrates how easy it is to gather information about a stranger in less than six minutes using web tools that are available to anyone free of charge. LINK

Online research and investigation companies are more intrusive. When individuals with criminal intent utilize these services, law-abiding members of our society pay the price - sometimes the ultimate price. Dr. Heather Bazzel, Sandra Berfield, William Berkeyheiser, and Amy Boyer were each victims of homicidal psychopaths they hardly knew.

There was nothing in any of the target’s backgrounds that made them especially easy to track. No domestic disputes, no celebrity status, and no online presence. Bazzel and Berfield both had orders of protection against their respective predators. Berkeyheiser and Boyer were unaware that obsessed sociopaths were invading their privacy.

“Protection” and “privacy”, significant concepts rendered impotent by a .38-caliber handgun, a 9mm Glock and a package bomb. Senseless tragedies facilitated by personal statistics purchased through online information brokers. Some of the details provided were acquired fraudulently.

Law enforcement discovered chilling evidence in three of the four cases indicating the perpetrators extended the scope of their stalking to include persons associated with their prey. One assassin obtained a domain in the name of his victim where he chronicled details of his multiple intentional crimes with a concentration on the woman's immediate family members. Despite public access, the website was never reported to authorities and remained in the hands of the killer’s estate for close to two years after the murder. would not release the domain name to the victim’s family.

The Antistalking Web Site claims that "In general, for any type of stalker, the less of a relationship that actually existed prior to the stalking, the more mentally disturbed the stalker." The tragedies referenced above not only validate this theory, but are also affirmation of a clear and present danger to unwitting victims when personal information falls into the wrong hands.

Loretta Serrano introduced an alternative dimension to cyberstalking by way of generous rewards that were offered at Usenet for personal information about selected targets. Nevertheless, Serrano religiously adheres to the traditional methods of gathering extraneous information concerning anyone associated with her designated target du jour. Harvesting details about so many people has its drawbacks, which are reflected in a 50% margin of error rating, particularly when the hearsay is about people Serrano doesn't know.

The amateur Cuyahoga County information broker isn't the first predator from Ohio. Thomas McCarthy, a former Cleveland firefighter, had gathered 2,200 dossiers on women before police caught up with him in 1999. Serrano is, however, the most excessive in cyberspace that I've come across in my research. I have not seen anyone else list the names and locations of unrelated minor children on a public forum for revenge. And it is incomprehensible to me how the mother of young offspring would tempt fate in exposing the most valuable and vulnerable among us to an undesireable element at the largest unrestricted cesspool on the WWW.

"I know it was wrong, but I did it anyway."
-Loretta Serrano

"A society can be fairly judged by how it treats its children. Caring for and guiding them to maturity is its most essential work, for they are the means by which it survives. By this measure, something has gone terribly wrong in our own community."
~ Jack Fuller, Editor

"Somebody does somethin' stupid, that's human.
They don't stop when they see it's wrong, that's a fool."
~ Elvis Presley, American rock 'n' roll icon (1935-1977)