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Online impersonator laws may lead to free speech issues

Arizona may be joining California and multiple other states by making it a crime for people to create online accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter accounts. Account creation becomes illegal if the account is made in the name of someone else, without the person's permission and for malicious reasons. The new law is certainly not the first of its kind, but it does demonstrate the growing pressure on state legislatures to crack down on a rise in computer crimes, particularly those involving fraud.

While the new Internet fraud legislation is allegedly modeled on legislation that was passed in Texas, California passed its own legislation prohibiting certain online impersonations back in 2010. The California legislation, known as SB 1411, introduced a number of criminal and civil penalties for perpetrators caught impersonating another individual online without the person's permission and with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud someone.

Ever since computer crimes legislation, such as SB 1411, was introduced free speech activists and Internet crusaders spoke out against it. One of the biggest concerns that online advocates have against the legislation is the number of very clear free speech implications with enforcement of the law, including satire and parody. The legislation of course does not address any of these very real legal concerns.

For those who support the legislation, the driving force behind its popularity appears to be a push back against cyber bullying. There have been many high profile news stories about cyber bullying in recent years. Unfortunately, like most laws those actually affected often exceed the scope of the legislation's intent. Penalties often include possible civil damages and prison time and those accused of Internet fraud need good defense attorney to work toward a just outcome.

Source URL: Greenville Online, "Arizona bill would outlaw posing as others on Facebook or Twitter," Jan. 3, 2012

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