Online impersonators targets of new law


By Bay City News Service

A new law that will go into effect Jan. 1 could bring online impersonators heavy fines or even jail time.

According to SB 1411 -- authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and signed into law in late September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- anyone who assumes the identity of another person to intentionally harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud may be charged with a misdemeanor.

Offenders could face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or spend up to a year in jail, the law says.

The law also will allow victims to sue for compensation in civil court, Simitian said.

Simitian called the act of making phony pages "the dark side of the social networking revolution." People can easily use Facebook or Twitter, e-mail, and Web forums to harass or embarrass others, or in some cases even endanger another person's life, he said.

"This takes no special expertise," Simitian said. "Anyone can put up a Facebook page and misuse someone else's name and identity."

Online impersonators or "e-personators" have been known to send obscene e-mails or post invitations on adult sites while pretending to be someone else.

Simitian said he hopes the law will act as a deterrent, but also give victims recourse.

The legislation was influenced in part by Silicon Valley Leadership Group President Carl Guardino, who earlier this year recounted three instances when either he or someone he knew had been a victim of online impersonators.

Simitian said Guardino sought help from local police and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and they told him there really wasn't anything they could do legally.

"Here we are in the heart of Silicon Valley in one of the most sophisticated technological centers of the world and people are saying that nothing can be done," Simitian said.

Simitian said the only impersonation law that came close to the Facebook issue was a law passed in 1872 referring to "any written instrument" or causing someone to become liable to prosecution or for payment of a debt.

The existing law, however, did not address the potential for broader forms of impersonation, such as via social networking or e-mail, Simitian said.

He said he authored the bill after realizing there was a need for a new law to crack down on 21st century forms of impersonation.

Simitian said he wanted to be conscientious about protecting the free speech rights of those who impersonate for parody, satire and political speech. Only people who impersonate an actual person without consent would be considered to be in violation of the law.

The law will be enforced by local law enforcement, but the state attorney general's office could also get involved, Simitian said.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmmmm
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Thank you Senator Joe Simitian and Gov. Schwarzenegger for realizing the immediate need for such a law. Anyone who was bullied, it stays with them, changes the way they may think of themselves, meanwhile the coward, gutless bullies of today gets away laughing at the targets without any recourse Then they go on to the next may not change the character of such person but at least they can be held accountable. And perhaps now the schools have a leg to stand on.
I really hope this helps change the way today's kids think first now that they can't hide.

Like this comment
Posted by Outsider
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Both the letter and the spirit of the law are appropriate and needed in this culture. However, try prosecuting it. It will be next to impossible to prove the identity and fault of the guilty party. Unfortunately, the victim's testimony will not be enough. Hopefully, the law alone will deter some, but of course, not all.

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 24, 2010 at 10:49 am

What, me worry?

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I do KNOW of one person who is going to be investigated and he was just elected into a "so what" office to hide behind his malfeasances.
LOTSA respectable people involved.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Squid ink paella & patatas bravas: Barcelona natives bring Spanish tapas to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 3,696 views

What to do with all those cardboard boxes
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 2,056 views

Lights Out! Foods to Snuggle With in the Dark
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 2,016 views

Premarital and Couples: The "Right" Way to Eat an Artichoke
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,526 views

What did you learn last week?
By Sherry Listgarten | 5 comments | 943 views


Race Results Are In

Thank you for joining us at the 35th annual Moonlight Run & Walk! All proceeds benefit the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday fund, supporting local nonprofits serving children and families.

Click for Race Results