California "Cyber-Bully" Law Takes Effect January 1, 2011
Among the new laws that go into force on New Year's Day 2011 is California Senate Bill 1411. The law is codified as Penal Code section 528.5 and is aimed at 'Cyber Bullies'. The bill was introduced by California State Senator Joe Simitian from the 11th State Senate District which includes Palo Alto and the "silicone valley". The law focuses on so called "e-personation" or impersonating another person by use of the internet. This includes email, online forums and social media. There are already a laws on the books to protect victims of impersonation and identity theft but those laws focus on misappropriation of property or other tangible benefits (Penal Code 529 and 530). The new law, Penal Code 528.5, is primarily concerned with other harm such as harassment or slander. (footnote 1). “E-personation takes no special expertise," said Simitian. “It’s as quick and easy as posting comments on a Web forum under another person’s name. Until now, there really has been no deterrent." Falsely sending out twitter messages that purport to be from a celebrity or falsely creating a Facebook page under the name of another person in order to embarrass them would now fall under the purview of this new law and subject the impersonator to criminal and civil liability. The penalties for online impersonation are similar to those already on the books for other forms of impersonation – a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in jail. The bill would also allow victims of online impersonation to pursue compensation in civil court. The new California law takes effect on January 1, 2011. Because this law uses the term falsely impersonating an "actual person" in order to harass another, some commentators have criticized the law for leaving a loophole open for cyber bullies who use fake names or fake profiles to harass their victim. I disagree. Stalking laws have been expanded to include "cyber stalking" . Penal Code 646.9. "Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his..." This includes use of the internet or email. (foot note 2). Also, Penal Code 653m once used for only for annoying phone calls in the old days has long ago been brought up to date to include other electronic devices such as the internet or email. Every person who, with intent to annoy or harass, ...... or makes repeated contact by means of an electronic communication device, ..... to another person is,... guilty of a misdemeanor. (footnote 3) To recap. The new law focuses on perpetrators who impersonate the victim through means such as creation of a false profile under the victim's name with a malicious intent. Other laws on the books already protect against online harassment or stalking.