Effective January 1, 2011, California joins Texas in making it a crime to impersonate someone on the Internet. Texas limited the statute to social websites, but California’s law is much broader. Here is the new Penal Code section:
(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.
Attorneys representing parties who have been attacked on the Internet now have an additional arrow in their quivers. You have likely seen cases where someone creates a false Facebook page, for example, pretending to be someone else in order to embarrass that person. Other cyber-stalkers are more subtle, and will post comments on numerous sites by the person they are impersonating in order to create the impression that the person has, say, a venereal disease. Now the attorneys can sue not only for defamation, but for impersonation.
– Aaron Morris
Morris & Stone