California bans malicious online impersonation

Maliciously impersonating someone on Facebook or Twitter will soon be illegal in California

A new law makes it illegal in California to maliciously impersonate someone online.

On Monday California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law, which makes it a misdemeanor in the state to impersonate someone online for "purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person."

The bill's author, State Senator Joe Simitian, said that Senate Bill 1411 brings California's impersonation laws into the 21st century by addressing "the dark side of the social networking revolution."

"Pretending to be someone else online takes no more Web savvy than posting comments on a Web forum under that person's name," said Simitian, in a statement. "When it's done to cause harm, folks need a law on the books they can turn to."

The law is designed to crack down on cyber-bullying and would apply to cases like that of Elizabeth Thrasher, who was charged last year withposting a 17-year-old girl's photo, e-mail and mobile number to a Craigslist adult forum, following an argument.

The law is not designed to prohibit parody or satire, but some worry that it could have a chilling effect nevertheless.

"It could be used to put the lid on free speech," said Mike Bonanno a member of the Yes Men, a group that has made a career out of parodying powerful corporations. "Our impersonations are revealed almost immediately after we do them -- there is a net gain of information for the public: it is anything but fraud. But those facts may not stop corporations and their political cronies from using this law to attack activists who are truly exercising free speech," he wrote in an e-mail.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn't like the law either. Like Bonanno, EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry worries that it could give corporations and public officials a new way to sue their critics into silence. "We're disappointed that the Governor decided to sign this bill, given that it is likely to be used to squelch political speech," she said via e-mail.

The law lets victims seek damages in civil court. Perpetrators can also face criminal charges -- up to a US$1,000 fine and a year's imprisonment. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2011.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags securityprivacycybercrimeinternetFacebooklegaltwitterJoe SimitianCorynne McSherry

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?