Thursday, November 3, 2011

Case Against NJ Woman Charged With Identity Theft Via Facebook Will Go Forward

After setting up a fake Facebook profile for her ex, Dana Thornton finds herself fighting a fourth-degree identity theft charge in New Jersey courts. 

She's accused of impersonating her ex-boyfriend, and making personal statements she attributed to him -- reportedly saying he was "high all the time," had herpes, and liked prostitutes. 

The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice defines the offense of impersonation/identity theft to include "impersonat[ing] another or assuming a false identity and do[ing] an act in such assumed character or false identity . . . to injure or defraud another." Thornton tried to get the case dismissed because the statute makes no mention of electronic communications.  The judge didn't buy the argument, and on Wednesday, ruled the case will go forward.

In my opinion, this court reached the right decision.  The statute unambiguously says that assuming a false identity to injure another person is against the law -- it shouldn't matter what tools are used in the process.

Interestingly, a bill was proposed in the NJ legislature last year that (if passed) would clarify that criminal impersonation using electronic means or the internet is covered by the law.  As I told the Associated Press, amending this particular statute could complicate future prosecutions.  For example, if the legislature amends the identity theft statute to specifically say it covers online conduct, would a court later assume the state’s harassment statute isn’t meant to encompass online communications because it hasn’t been amended to specifically say so?  If this statute is revised to specifically reference online conduct, should the legislature try to amend all other laws that could be implicated in the context of online communications?