A Tallahassee city ethics officer was arrested and charged with cyberstalking her coworker and former lover, and is now banned by a judge from using the internet for anything besides work, paying bills and her legal defense.
Julie Meadows-Keef is accused of cyberstalking Bert Fletcher, the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported. Both worked in Tallahassee city government. She was hired in 2014 as the first city government ethics officer, while he worked in an adjacent office as the city auditor. They soon started a romantic relationship, according to the report.
Their messy personal drama included both of their divorces, restraining orders, a falsely filed sexual complaint by Meadows-Keef against Fletcher (later dismissed by a judge), and stalking allegations thrown back and forth.
And while love affairs-turned-toxic are hardly anything new, the use of electronic tools for stalking has made such cases even more pernicious — and cyberstalking is on the rise.
Stalkerware on the Rise
Aside from harassing someone over the internet through messages and social media, stalking can also be carried out using stalkerware. Google defined stalkerware as “code that transmits personal information off the device without adequate notice or consent and doesn’t display a persistent notification that this is happening.” That includes apps with GPS marketed to spy on people without their knowledge.
Stalkerware downloads have been on the rise, according to Kaspersky, which last year observed a 50 percent increase in them year-over-year.
Google Play banned spyware and surveillance software last fall, but made an exception for services for parents to track their kids for safety. The issue, some say, is that there are many examples of apps which purport to be for parents but can easily be turned into incredibly effective tools for stalkers.
Researchers at Kaspersky for instance raised the alarm about an app called “Monitor Minor” last March, which can let stalkers gain nearly total control of their target’s device, even capturing the unlock security codes.
“This is the first time we have registered such a function in all our experience of monitoring mobile platform threats,” Victor Chebyshev, a security researcher at Kaspersky who authored the report on Monitor Minor’s dangers, said. The app is not available through app stores, but it’s available online.
Stalkerware & the Pandemic
Since the pandemic’s lockdowns and stay-at-home orders went into effect, advocacy organizations have reported an increase in cyberstalking reports. Paladin, a national stalking advocacy service in the U.K., said that it has seen a 40 percent jump in victim contacts by email and phone since the lockdown was imposed. Another stalking advocacy service in the U.K. called Veritas Justice reported a 75-percent increase in cyberstalking activity since the lockdown, according to the Guardian.
Experts told the Guardian that it’s not just isolation and loneliness fueling the surge in cyberstalking — it’s also the ease with which they can carry out their crimes online.
“The rise in cyberstalking due to the lockdown concerns me deeply,” Katy Bourne, the chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said. “The severity of risk to a victim is now defined by the amount of time invested by the perpetrator in their obsession. So, with many victims receiving over 100 text messages, emails, phone calls a day, we know that these strong fixations could have a more sinister outcome.”
For Meadows-Keef, her arrest comes at the end of a long saga with her former employer as well as her ex. Just weeks ago, she reached a settlement with the city after claiming she was forced from her job, according to the Democrat, which added that during her tenure she also demanded the city’s Mayor John Dailey write her a check for $450,000 and offer her a public apology in exchange for her resignation.
Now the official who was once in charge of ethics training is barred from contacting Fletcher or his family, and from using devices with internet access until her trial.
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