News

'E-personation' law takes effect Jan. 1

Law authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian aims to crack down on online impersonators

A new law that will go into effect on 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 bill said.

The law will also 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 different instances where 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 provide or 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.

— Bay City News Service

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by madhuri
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 23, 2010 at 10:57 am

I think this law will be very beneficial, also to bullying. I hope this gets approved.


Like this comment
Posted by madhuri
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 23, 2010 at 10:58 am

To stop bullying and catch offenders.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 23, 2010 at 11:11 am

I have seen many famous names posting on Town Square. Will this stop it?


Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 23, 2010 at 11:57 am

Famous names? Really?


Like this comment
Posted by Think Twice
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm

I think this law will be used more often to harass innocent defendants than it will be used to fix real problems.


Like this comment
Posted by Thomas Jefferson
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Could be used to have Alfred not post under another famous name...

heh heh heh

read this one quick, cuz it's gone

unless the editors started the holiday early... :-)

After all, have you ever seen Alfred and Thomas in the same room? Debating free speech, perhaps?

merry ho-ho


Like this comment
Posted by Ginny
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Alfred,

Big fan. Nice to see you are close by in Atherton. Call me.


Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Ginny:

Ain't you the sweetest!

Alas, I misplaced your number and there is not a means of linkiing here. Just keep an eye out for me around town drinking, appropriately enough, gin.

Alternatively, find Mr Jefferson, or just looks for my ears....


Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Dec 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

as always with Simitians laws, lots of BS but no money or guidelines for enforcement. Had to laugh when Carl Guardino of the "Silicon Valley Leadership Group" claims his name was misused. Really? Heres a group that has changed their name from the Silicon Manufacturing Group to several other names over the past 10 years.Fact is their a lobbying group who change their name when their confronted by reason and support all taxes except those directly that will effect business's.


Like this comment
Posted by Lawsuitsbegone
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm

"The law will also allow victims to sue for compensation in civil court"
Legislators should enact laws with penalties, not open the floodgates for the trial lawyers.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2010 at 1:11 pm

"Legislators should enact laws with penalties, not open the floodgates for the trial lawyers. "

And then de-fund the regulating agencies leaving zero enforcement mechanisms?

Haven't we learned that regulations and a reasonable enforcement mechanism protect the middle class and working families of this great nation?


Like this comment
Posted by ISO Justice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Lawsuitsbegone and anonymous,
You both have good points. Laws that allow instant recourse for people are really the best, because as soon as you allow for lawsuits (and only lawsuits), it means big interests get involved and often justice is delayed and denied. Lawyers cost money; they only like to take the easy-to-win cases. Lawsuits are incredibly stressful and can cause more injury than the original problem being litigated. When big money interests like insurers get involved, they often commit that kind of harm on purpose through the suit to get the result they want (creating further injustice).

My impression is that strong injunctive relief is the most important, giving the person wronged the right to have everything defamatory removed without a huge fight or hassle and to have costs covered (e.g., using organizations like Reputation Defenders). There should also be damages spelled out, specific damages, so that going to court is a clear way to enforce already clear damages and people can't play games in court (unless it's a really large suit that will necessarily be complicated). Only when there are specific damages easily enforced is the threat of a court case an actual deterrent. (Then you get fewer court cases, not more.)


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

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