Watch out, West Coast Newsgroupers, because a new California law prohibiting online impersonations officially went into effect this weekend. Violators of a new California law will face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a year in jail.
To summarize the bill, which was passed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, classifies electronic impersonation as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1k, and jail time of up to a year; in addition to the right of the impersonatee to sue the impersonator. It offers no provisions for anyone who is pretending to be someone on the internet for comedic effect. Basically the state has created a new crime, and a new section is being added to the penal code. To be inacted you have to have the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud another person.
The text of the bill says it is now against the law in California 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.”
While the law doesn’t explicitly address free speech concerns, it does specify that perpetrators must demonstrate a clear intent to harm, intimidate, or defraud the individual being impersonated — or, for that matter, anyone else.
How the law will play out is, of course, something only the courts and time will decide. For the time being, it would be better to be safe, rather than sorry. Be yourself online.