The New York State Assembly has passed and the governor has signed S. 4053, which makes impersonation on the Internet a crime. The new law has amended the New York penal code makes it a crime for a person to "impersonates another by communication by internet website or electronic means with intent to obtain a benefit or injure or defraud another, or by such communication pretends to be a public servant in order to induce another to submit to such authority or act in reliance on such pretense."
As justification, the assembly cited to "an incident [that] occurred in Suffolk county where a police officer hacked into a woman’s computer he briefly dated and posed as her. He was indicted on 197 charges of stalking and unauthorized use of the computer." Also, "Websites such as Myspace, Friendster, and Facebook, make it easy to upload someone else’s photo and pretend to be that person," the assembly said.
This issue is currently a subject of debate in a case where a woman is facing charges because she created a fake MySpace page to harass a 13-year-old girl. The girl’s family says the woman pretended to be a 16-year-old boy who flirted with the girl and then later sent her hateful messages, including one that said "the world would be a better place" without her. The girl later committed suicide.
Though the New York law was not passed specifically for this Missouri case, there has been widespread discussion of criminalizing online impersonations. The woman’s actions were abhorrent, and she should be punished. However, creating a law to criminalize impersonating someone on the Internet is not the answer. Such a law, like the one in New York, could stifle anonymous, pseudonymous, or parody speech online. What about parody sites like "The Diary of Steve Jobs" or "Harriet Miers’ Blog"? Or how about companies that create fictional characters, like lonelygirl15? In that case, an actress pretended to be a teenage girl for a series of Web videos. People were upset when they learned it was all a marketing ploy. One could easily see how these sites could be accused of operating "with intent to obtain a benefit or injure or defraud another."