Tuesday, June 14, 2011
New York's 'Digital Impersonation Prevention Act' Legislation Offers Victims Hope Against Online Malice
New York State Legislators are seeking to pass a monumental bill (Assembly - 6238/Senate - 4015) that will make online impersonation of another individual with the intent to harm, threaten, or defraud the targeted person a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment. New York State Assembly Member and staunch public advocate Micah Z. Kellner (D-Upper East Side, Yorkville and Roosevelt Island) created and sponsored the groundbreaking 'Digital Impersonation Prevention Act' that will unquestionably benefit all New Yorkers while also demonstrating to the nation and world the critical importance of laws that protect individuals from online malice. Republican Senator Martin Golden (R-Kings County), a lawmaker known for his unyielding support of children and public safety issues has sponsored the bi-partisan legislation in the Senate. The bill has been hailed by victims, activists, and the public-at-large concerned with the limited amount of law concerning online behavior as extremely positive legislation. If passed, an enforceable law will exist that protects against the rapidly growing number of online cases of malicious impersonation and identity theft intended to cause targets grave injury and loss.
Assemblyman Kellner's ‘Digital Impersonation Prevention Act’ (DIPA) strengthens the New York State's protections against predators who use innocent victims' identities to harass, defraud, or send spam to others. It also makes it possible for victims of identity theft to seek civil penalties from the perpetrators. The legislation’s intent is clear: while protecting and respecting the anonymity that the Internet offers to individuals is extremely important, so to is protecting individuals from online sociopathic predators who have intent to destroy another person’s life through malevolent online impersonation and identity theft.
According to the United States Federal Communications Commission estimates, as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year: a number that appears to be expanding with the increase of Internet users and society's reliance on the Internet as a necessity in our daily lives. Presently, California is the only state with unilateral online impersonation laws establishing it a criminal act to impersonate an individual online with intent to cause the target harm. Texas also has a specific law that makes it a felony to impersonate someone on a social network.
Commenting on the need and intent of the new legislation, Senator Martin Golden said, "It's trying to get a handle on a different kind of cyber-bullying. You've got to set some parameters so people understand that you have to live within the norm of society."
The next step for the DIPA legislation is for it be voted on by Senate Majority Leader and child advocate defender Senator Dean G. Skelos' 'Rules Committee'. Senator Skelos' extensive history of creating and sponsoring laws that will protect others is well known, including the senator's writing of the landmark 'Megan's Law'. In addition, Senator Skelos' leadership with respect to online predator behavior includes the championing of the e-STOP law which prevents registered sex offenders from accessing social networking websites, including MySpace and Facebook, and prohibiting online communication between sex offenders and children.
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, the Chairman of the ‘Committee of Codes’, and a lawmaker who has been remarkably serving New Yorkers in Albany for nearly 40 years will oversee the DIPA legislation's movement before the Codes Committee. Assemblyman Lentol, a former Assistant District Attorney for Kings County, has a long and deep history of supporting legislation that helps the children of the state.
Author and child advocate Peter Thomas Senese added, "Imagine having an online predator create an assortment of websites, social media accounts, posts, and twitter or email messages all under your name and identity, and then post content on these sites that were untruthful, malicious, distorted, and fabricated in order to cause you injury. Think your very worst thoughts. Now imagine the number of sites your identity is being used on is magnified substantially. If you think you have swift and effective recourse, you are mistaken as civil litigation has proven for many to be unreliable, lengthy, and sadly, unproductive. The reality is you have a very serious and dangerous problem on your hands, and the sociopathic predator who has acted to harm you does not fear legal retribution under existing available laws. The DIPA legislation changes all this."
If the DIPA law is passed, New Yorkers will be offered additional protection from cyber terrorists since present New York State law allows for criminal prosecution of an out-of-state predator if their acts have consequences for their victims living in New York State.
In addition, legal experts believe several existing state criminal laws could potentially be applied when prosecuting against the offense of online impersonation.
Dr. Keely Kolmes, Psy.D., the pioneer of 'Digital and Social Media Ethics for Psychotherapists', cautions about the potential harms of online impersonation. “This is a form of harassment and the emotional distress may lead to anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances or other disruptions to a person's well-being. It could significantly impair a person's daily functioning in school, work, or relationships. It can also have an effect on someone's social support system if others don't recognize that the individual is being impersonated.”
Erica Johnstone, a partner at Ridder, Costa & Johnstone LLP who has extensive experience litigating online harassment, identity theft and impersonation supported California's SB 1411 bill concerning online impersonation that became law on January 1st, 2011 previously observed that, “Almost all cyber-harassment goes unpunished, with devastating consequences to the victims, including loss of reputation, shame, mortification, hurt feelings, pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of business and education opportunities, and emotional distress.”
According to experts focusing on online impersonation, the psychological factors behind the person committing such online impersonation with malicious intent can be identified as greed, revenge, frustration, and grievance. The majority of individuals who maliciously impersonate another consistently demonstrate behavior of an online stalker whereas the online stalker/impersonator is motivated by a desire to exert control over their victims and engage in behavior to accomplish this end. These crimes are real and are affecting everyone - individuals, business organizations, nation-states and the international communities. The perpetual and compulsive act of maliciously impersonating another individual online demonstrates behavior best defined as “Cyber Terrorism.”
Demonstrating the sweeping problem of malicious online impersonation facing citizens everywhere, California State Senator Joe Simitian, who wrote and sponsored the California impersonation law provides insight on this national issue that each state must immediately address for themselves when he said, "Pretending to be someone else online takes no more Web savvy than posting comments on a Web forum under that person's name," said Simitian, in a statement. "When it's done to cause harm, folks need a law on the books they can turn to."
Peter Thomas Senese included, "One of the great problems that exists in the civil prosecution against a person who maliciously impersonates a target online is that typically the predator has limited assets, and therefore is judgment proof - that is, a defendant has no concern over financial compensation of their victim since they have no assets to provide. At the moment, and why New York needs to pass the DIPA law is due to the stark reality that many of these online predators simply ignore the rules of court and laws since they believe there is limited recourse available for their target. So, if a predator has no concern of a monetary judgment against them, then more than likely, they will continue to create an online terrorist state for their victim. However, if the ‘Digital Impersonation Prevention Act’ is made into law, then the citizens of New York, similar to the citizens of California and to a lesser degree, Texas, will have available to them a very unique tool that predators cannot circumvent: a criminal code that does not require for a victim to have extensive assets to litigate over in order to obtain relief, but also a deterrent and tool that could shorten the lengthy legal process required under civil law. The message will be clear to online terrorists who impersonate another individual: your malicious behavior will no longer be tolerated due to new criminal laws now in place."
The ramifications of online malicious impersonation are in fact a worldwide problem and its malevolent intent far-reaching. According to Martin Waage, President of world-renown security experts ABP World Group Ltd., a leading international child abduction recovery services company, "Online impersonation as part of a malicious defamation and slander campaign directed toward an unsuspecting parental guardian targeted in the growing plague of criminal international parental child abduction that is created as part of a child abductor's defense and then used to sanction their criminal act of child stealing is a malicious and tragic occurrence implemented by thousands of parental child abductors each year. We have seen this type of malicious, illicit behavior targeted against parents from New York to Rome. They had to react to the nightmare of having their child abducted while having their name disparaged online by a sociopathic abducting parent in order to defend their criminal acts. And always - the abductor uses the untrue and fabricated online impersonation and slander against their target. In my opinion this is the most vicious and evil form of online impersonation and identity theft - and it's happening all the time everywhere. I urge New York lawmakers to pass this important law."
The legislation, (A.6238/S.4015), will create effective penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for those who engage in digital impersonation for the purposes of harming, threatening, or defrauding another person, as well as sending unsolicited bulk emails and commercial solicitations, or utilizing a contact list. It also establishes a civil cause of action for people who are victims of digital impersonation, allowing victims to sue perpetrators for up to $500 for each incident.
Advocates supporting the ‘Digital Impersonation Prevention Act’ have recently created a petition sight and request anyone anywhere concerned with the criminal act of malicious online impersonation to sign the petition. It can be found at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/i-support-new-yorks-digital-impersonation-prevention-act/.