Internet Impersonations Are Targeted By New Law
Posted February 22, 2011

Impersonating another person on the Internet is fast becoming the favored strategy of the disgruntled. Consider the mischief you could cause if you opened a Facebook account in the name of your personal nemesis, and then fabricated embarrassing disclosures and off-color remarks. Sound tempting? Well, don’t do it. Aside from being bad for your soul, it’s now against the law in California.

Senate Bill 1411, which went into effect January 1, prohibits impersonating an actual person via the Internet or email, “for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding” anyone. The new law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, and up to one year in jail, and also authorizes a civil suit for damages, including punitive damages and attorneys fees in egregious cases.

It’s always been against the law to defraud people, and threats of physical violence have long landed people in legal trouble, so what does the new law add? Consider the example above. If all you’re trying to do is embarrass people – as opposed to stealing their credit card numbers or scaring them away from testifying against you – there might not have been a legal remedy under previous law. Now there is.

Free speech advocates are worried that the law may violate rights to expression, and prosecutors doubtless will have some difficult questions when the test cases come up. But starting now, we have another reason to be careful about what we do unto others.

For more information regarding this topic, contact Glenn J. Dickinson.