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Romania Recognizes Cyber Harassment as Form of Domestic Violence

Publication: ZRVP

A new legal amendment acknowledges cyber harassment as a form of domestic violence, following a ruling against Romania by the European Court of Human Rights over the state’s failure to protect the Internet privacy of an abused woman whose Facebook profile and emails were accessed by her former husband. The Romanian legislation will be now aligned to that of other EU member states. The law will also criminalize illegal access to communications and private data via computers, smartphones or devices that can connect to the internet.

This decision follows a former judgement issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which stated that Romanian authorities have failed to protect an abused woman whose Facebook profile and emails were accessed by her former husband. The Court recognized that when the Romanian court dismissed the request of the applicant regarding the fact that her former husband had accessed her Facebook account without authorization and made copies of documents and conversations, actually did not take into consideration that “violence might have multiple forms”.

Cyber harassment might be understood as a general term to describe the use of technology to harass, control, manipulate or stalk a person without a threat of physical harm. This abuse might take several forms such as cyberbullying when a minor is involved or cyberstalking when actual direct or implied threat to physical harm is submitted. The major difference between cyber and physical harassment is that while the former solely implies the use of technology to control victims, the latter goes beyond the virtual reality and imposes face-to-face contact.

In light of a reality that tends to naturally digitalize social interactions, the legal framework shall also keep pace with the actual trends in order to ensure adequate protection of all individuals. Due to a previous stressed problem that reached its peak when ECHR confirmed a legislative leak in Romania’s law system, a step has been made by expressively criminalizing cybernetic violence. Under the amendments, “cybernetic violence” includes “online harassment, online messages that instigate hatred for reason of gender, online stalking, online threats, publication of information and intimate graphic content without consent, [and] … illegal interception of communications” of a digital or online nature.

The newly adopted rules include protection from online threats or messages that aim at creating fear or shame to whom it is intended, sent through computers, mobile phones or any other similar devices, that use communications technology or are able to connect to internet and can transmit or use social platforms, without aiming at narrowing the electronical means that can be used for such behavior.

Even if this move is considered an important stage in the development of online protection, further actions shall be considered in a wider process of establishing an adequate background for authentic security when using virtual means of human interaction.

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