California passed a state law Monday that makes it a crime to impersonate someone online with the intent to cause harm or commit fraud.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Monday that makes
it illegal to impersonate someone online with intent to harm, intimidate,
threaten or defraud.
passed the legislature unanimously. Under the legislation, "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 breaking the law-an act punishable by a fine of up to
$1,000 and up to one year in county jail.
In addition, the aggrieved person would have the right to file a lawsuit
against his or her impersonator.
"E-personation is the dark
side of the social networking
revolution," said State Sen. Joe
Simitian, D-Palo Alto, in a statement. "It's quick. It's easy. And it's a
misuse of the technology. Pretending to be someone else online takes no more
Web savvy than posting comments on a Web forum under that person's name. When
it is done to cause harm, folks need a law on the books they can turn to."
In the bill, which covers acts such as opening e-mail accounts or accounts
on social networking sites, an impersonation is considered credible if another
person would or did reasonably believe that the defendant was the person who
One of the traditional challenges of social networks has been around authenticating
-making sure users are who they say they are. This bill does
not help with that issue; instead, it only provides a legal basis for
prosecuting impersonators who harm others, said Dave Marcus, director of
security research and communications at McAfee.
"This law is not preventative, and is only useful if you need to
prosecute a cyber-criminal," he told eWEEK. "It will not make it
any easier to catch cyber-criminals."
Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley
Leadership Group, said his name has been used to send inflammatory e-mails.
"I have long believed that bullies are simply cowards that no one has
stood up against," Guardino said in a statement. "E-impersonators are
just bullies hiding behind technology. This law ensures these bad actors know
there is a price to pay, and holds them accountable for their behavior."
Guardino added that his brother, a teacher, was impersonated by someone on
Facebook whose posts made it seem like his brother was mocking a disabled
"With the dramatic expansion of online communication the nature of
impersonation has changed and online abuses have proliferated," Simitian
said. "Pretending to be someone else online takes no special expertise.
And at present there is really no deterrent."
The California law will go
into effect Jan. 1, 2011.