Cyberstalker sentenced to one year

An Alberta man who used the internet to turn his ex-girlfriend's life upside down, has been convicted of criminal harassment and sentenced to a year in jail.

A man in Alberta who used the internet to turn his ex-girlfriend's life upside down was convicted on Thursday of criminal harassment and sentenced to a year in jail.

Jonathan Barnes, 32, used internet keyloggers and fake e-mail addresses to harass Cari Benson.

Barnes also made Benson's life a misery by hacking into her cellphone and bank accounts, and sending embarrassing pictures of her to her friends and family, the judge was told.

"He systematically tried to destroy my life," she said.

Benson said she never knew the down side to using her computer until she ended her relationship with Barnes.

"I got a call from my sister while I was at work and she said that she received an e-mail from a fake e-mail account, someone pretending to be me, and it was a nude photo of myself. He'd basically sent them to my work, my previous work, my friends, family, and from there it just crashed."

Judge Gary Cioni said cyberstalking can be much worse than traditional harassment.

"In a case like this, where electronic means are used to attack a person, one wonders where the end of the road is in society today," he said.

The harassment began two years ago when Barnes installed software on Benson's computer so he could record her keystrokes. From there, he could get her passwords. He accessed her phone records and e-mail, and even withdrew her from the college.

And that was just the start.

According to Benson, "He put my personal information as well as photos of myself on the internet, in chatrooms, and I would get calls from these people, and they would come to my work and say, 'You asked me to come by, we were chatting earlier.'"

Computer experts, including Patrick Perry, say it's becoming easier for people to acquire and abuse technology.

"I think that technology generally outstrips our culture's awareness of what it can do, and certainly outstrips legislation and regulation to protect us from it," he said.

Sanjeev Anand of the University of Alberta says the law can handle the technological evolution of stalking. But those who enforce the law need to be educated.

"It's more of a knowledge gap. The tools are there," said Sanjeev. "But law enforcement and prosecutors may not be aware of the tools, may not be aware of how to adapt the existing tools to new technology."

The one-year jail sentence is rare for harassment convictions involving no previous criminal record. But the judge said the cyberstalking in this case had serious, far-reaching effects which were just as as bad as a physical assault.

"I basically changed every aspect of my life, so he couldn't find me anymore," said Benson. "I moved, I got a new phone number, I got a new job, I changed my social insurance numbers and I went to a different school."