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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                  
September 28, 2010

For More Information, Contact:
Phil Yost (650) 688-6384
Melissa Figueroa (916) 651-4011


SACRAMENTO – Maliciously impersonating someone online – out of revenge, or jealousy, or a twisted sense of humor—isn’t just a cruel game anymore. It’s a crime. California’s 19th century impersonation law was updated to protect victims of e-personation yesterday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation, authored by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). Senate Bill 1411 makes it a misdemeanor to impersonate someone online with intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud.

“E-personation,” said Simitian, “is the dark side of the social networking revolution. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it’s a misuse of the technology. Pretending to be someone else online takes no more Web savvy than posting comments on a Web forum under that person’s name. When it is done to cause harm, folks need a law on the books they can turn to.”

Senate Bill 1411 passed the Legislature unanimously. It brings California’s impersonation law, which dates to 1872, into the era of e‑mail and social networking. “With the dramatic expansion of online communication,” said Simitian, “the nature of impersonation has changed and online abuses have proliferated. Pretending to be someone else online takes no special expertise. And at present there is really no deterrent.”

“A 19th century law is no deterrent for 21st century impersonators,” said Simitian. “A new law is needed to address this form of harassment.”

Victims may be the person whose identity is assumed or a third person who is being harassed. Typically, they are left without adequate legal protection. Online impersonators have sent Twitter messages “signed” by celebrities, pretended to be someone else to send obscene e-mails, even subjected others to unwanted sexual advances by assuming their identity to post invitations on adult sites.

In one example, a Missouri woman seeking revenge pretended to be the daughter of her ex-husband’s girlfriend on an adult dating site, causing the daughter to receive lewd responses.

Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said his name has been used to send inflammatory e-mails. “I have long believed that bullies are simply cowards that no one has stood up against,” Guardino said. “E-impersonators are just bullies hiding behind technology. This law ensures these bad actors know there is a price to pay, and holds them accountable for their behavior.”

Guardino said his brother, a teacher, was impersonated by someone on Facebook whose posts made it seem as though his brother was mocking a disabled student.

Senate Bill 1411 would make it a misdemeanor to impersonate another person through the Internet or other electronic means with criminal intent to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud. Only an online impersonation of an actual person that is credible and done without consent would fall under the law. Existing First Amendment free speech protections will continue to protect parody, satire and political speech. 

The penalties for online impersonation would be similar to those already on the books for other forms of impersonation – up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail. The bill would also allow victims of online impersonation to pursue compensation in civil court.

Other states, including New York and Texas, have recently updated their statutes to prohibit online false impersonation. Senate Bill 1411 becomes law Jan. 1, 2011.

For more information on SB 1411, visit