California Bill Criminalizing Online Impersonations In Effect Starting Today

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California’s SB 1411, which adds a layer of criminal and civil penalties for certain online impersonations, goes into effect starting today. The consequences include a fine of up to $1,000, and/ or up to a year in jail. So don’t go and do something crazy like impersonate Google CEO Eric Schmidt on Facebook. There may be consequences.

The full text and a summary of the bill are below. There’s a good overview and analysis of it as well, on ZDNet. The state has created a new crime, and a new section is being added to the penal code.

There has to be intent to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud another person – not necessarily the person you are impersonating. Free speech issues, including satire and parody, aren’t addressed in the text of the bill. The courts will likely sort it out. Hopefully without my direct participation.

SB 1411, Simitian. Impersonation: Internet.
Existing law makes it a crime to falsely impersonate another in
either his or her private or official capacity, as specified.
Existing law also makes it a crime to knowingly access and, without
permission, alter, damage, delete, destroy, or otherwise use any
data, computer, computer system, or computer network in order to
devise or execute any scheme or artifice to defraud, deceive, or
extort, or wrongfully control or obtain money, property, or data. For
a violation thereof, in addition to specified criminal penalties,
existing law authorizes an aggrieved party to bring a civil action
against the violator, as specified.
This bill would provide that any person who knowingly and without
consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an
Internet Web site or by other electronic means, as specified, for
purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another
person is guilty of a misdemeanor. The bill would, in addition to
the specified criminal penalties, authorize a person who suffers
damage or loss to bring a civil action against any person who
violates that provision, as specified. Because the bill would create
a new crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local
agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the
state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that
reimbursement.
This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this
act for a specified reason.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. Section 528.5 is added to the Penal Code, to read:
528.5. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person
who knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another
actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other
electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening,
or defrauding another person is guilty of a public offense punishable
pursuant to subdivision (d).
(b) For purposes of this section, an impersonation is credible if
another person would reasonably believe, or did reasonably believe,
that the defendant was or is the person who was impersonated.
(c) For purposes of this section, “electronic means” shall include
opening an e-mail account or an account or profile on a social
networking Internet Web site in another person’s name.
(d) A violation of subdivision (a) is punishable by a fine not
exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a
county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and
imprisonment.
(e) In addition to any other civil remedy available, a person who
suffers damage or loss by reason of a violation of subdivision (a)
may bring a civil action against the violator for compensatory
damages and injunctive relief or other equitable relief pursuant to
paragraphs (1), (2), (4), and (5) of subdivision (e) and subdivision
(g) of Section 502.
(f) This section shall not preclude prosecution under any other
law.
SEC. 2. No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to
Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because
the only costs that may be incurred by a local agency or school
district will be incurred because this act creates a new crime or
infraction, eliminates a crime or infraction, or changes the penalty
for a crime or infraction, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the
Government Code, or changes the definition of a crime within the
meaning of Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California
Constitution.

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