Online Impersonation Laws: What Does Texas Law Prohibit?

While there are a number of websites dedicated to the most satisfying ways to seek revenge on someone who has wronged you, attaining this revenge by posting private photos of them online, or going so far as to create a fake profile on a hookup app or dating site, is considered a serious crime in Texas. Recently, a Texas appellate court turned back a challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s strict online impersonation laws. Read on to learn more about the Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold this law as constitutional, as well as some of your potential defenses if you find yourself facing a charge of online impersonation.

What Actions Do Online Impersonation Laws Cover?

Texas Penal Code Title 7, Section 33.07 proscribes a broad swath of online impersonation, from creating a fake profile on a social networking site (or any other internet website) to texting, messaging, or emailing an individual’s phone number, address, or other identifying information to a third party without consent. The first type of impersonation is classified as a third degree felony, punishable by prison time, while the transmission of an individual’s contact information is usually a Class A misdemeanor.

Texas’s 4th District Court of Appeals recently rejected a criminal defendant’s challenge to the constitutionality of this law, finding that the statute did not violate the defendant’s rights to free speech and equal protection and addressed the important governmental interest of “protecting citizens from crime, fraud, defamation, or threats from online impersonation.” Unless the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals takes this case on a writ of certiorari and reverses this ruling or the legislature amends the law, online impersonation will remain a criminal offense.

Are there any potential defenses if you’re charged with online impersonation?

While there are a couple of potential defenses built into the statute, they are fairly limited – unless you’re an employee of a commercial social networking site or telecommunications provider and are required to access accounts or create “dummy” online personas as part of your job, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to argue that your act or acts of impersonation were permissible under Texas law.

Instead, a better defense may relate to the intent you had when impersonating someone else online. In order for criminal liability to be assessed, the state must prove that you performed this impersonation with the intent to “harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten” any person – perhaps the act of creating a dating site profile for a shy friend in an attempt to elicit some potential partners is likely to be treated as a defense, as opposed to creating a dating site profile for an ex-flame in an attempt to direct unwanted attention or harassment.

Attempts to quickly remove the impersonated profile or intercept unsolicited communications being directed at the target will also be taken into account when assessing your intent to commit harm – the more reparative efforts you made to minimize damage to your target, the less likely it is you will end up facing felony or misdemeanor charges.

If you do find yourself facing any type of online impersonation charge, you’ll want to retain the services of an experienced computer crime defense lawyer. Patrick McLain has over twenty-five years of experience in defending those charged with various computer crimes, including internet solicitation, internet fraud and identity theft. If you find yourself under investigation for online impersonation, or any other computer crime, contact The Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC for a free and confidential consultation.

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