“On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” is an adage from the early days of Web browsing that is quickly losing validity through the enactment and enforcement of new laws. Online impersonation has been a criminal act in Texas since 2009, when the legislature approved a bill that would prohibit online impostors from pretending to be someone else, or stealing someone’s identity.
Defining Internet Impersonation in Houston, Texas
Impersonating someone online is defined by the statutes of the Lone Star State as an activity that involves imposture by means of deceit with the intent to harm, defraud or intimidate.
The Texas Penal Code goes into some specifics in this regard. The three main actions defined are:
- Creating a website or social media profile under false pretenses of being someone else
- Using websites, email programs or message boards for the purpose of harming others online
- Sending any kind of electronic message that includes identifying information about other people without their consent and with nefarious intentions
Online manipulation and using the Internet resources of others without their permission can also be construed as criminal offenses under Texas law.
Consequences of Going Undercover Online
Creating a website or social media profile while pretending to be someone else could result in third degree felony charges. In this case, defendants could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine no higher than $10,000.
Illegally accessing an online social network or any other electronic communications platform for the purpose of sending messages under assumed identities could result in Class A misdemeanor charges. If convicted, a defendant could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Possible Online Impersonation Defenses
Houston criminal defense attorneys have observed that prosecutors are encountering some difficulties in court with regard to this new law. Jurisdiction is one of the most challenging issues, particularly when the alleged impostors initiate their actions outside of the Lone Star State. Another issue is determining the level of access given to defendants by other people for the purpose of using their website or social media accounts.