Archive for October, 2009

Fake Identity, coming to a lawsuit near you

October 5, 2009

It’s been building for a while, but here’s the best example I’ve seen so far: a group of teens have been sued for impersonating another.  Basically, the four teens created a Facebook profile for their target, putting a lot of work into making it look real, and then used it to make their target look like a racist ass.  This probably isn’t unusual by now, but they went far enough to cause demonstrable harm to the kid, resulting in a defamation suit that sounds like it has a good chance of winning.

It does lead me to wonder where this is all going legally.  When we talk about “identity theft” today, we’re usually talking about schemes designed to steal your money or credit.  But this is a different sort of identity theft, perhaps even more damaging in the long run — taking control of your public profile and changing what people believe you to be.

I’m struck by the fact that, when this did turn into a lawsuit, the suit was defamation.  This seems to imply that the basic action of impersonation either isn’t illegal, or at least doesn’t result in a harsh enough punishment.  My gut says that it probably ought to be quite illegal, although my head says that it’s always difficult to write laws like this without pretty severe unintended consequences.

Opinions?  Do you think there should be harsh laws against this kind of identity theft — designed not to steal, but simply mislead?  Do you think it’s possible to write such a law well?  What sort of consequences is it likely to have?  I’m chewing this one over myself…