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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: December 30, 2014 03:04 PM
From: Representative Katharine M. Watson
To: All House members
Subject: Online Impersonation - previously HB 764
I am planning to re-introduce HB 764 from last session. This bill passed the House by a vote of 196 - 0. The legislation amends the Crimes Code (Title 18) to add the criminal offense of Online Impersonation; and amends the Judicial Code (Title 42) to also provide for a civil cause of action for this new offense.

The new offense will apply to anyone who uses the name or identifying information of another person to create a web page; post messages or open an account / profile on a social networking site; send an e-mail or text; or open an e-mail account while engaging in any of the following underlying offenses: harassment, terroristic threats, stalking, and witness or victim intimidation or retaliation.

The offense will be graded as a 2nd degree misdemeanor (punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5000) or as one grade higher than the underlying offense, whichever is greater.

With respect to civil actions, a court may award actual damages (such as loss of money, reputation or property) or $500, whichever is greater, as well as attorney fees, court costs and restitution.

The provisions of the bill will not apply to works of public interest such as parodies, commentaries and satires.

This initiative is in response to an incident wherein one of my constituents, a public school teacher, discovered that two students had created an e-mail account in her name and used it to harass another student. Local police investigated the incident and the account was shut down. However, the DA's office indicated that the students could not be charged under PA's Identity Theft statute as the teacher had not "suffered a [monetary] loss."

I believe that there should be consequences to this type of action, which has the effect of causing embarrassment and harm to the reputation of the person whose identity has been utilized, as well as misleading any persons who receive or access the false information or material. Similar legislation was enacted in California in January 2011.

Last session, this proposal had the support of the PA District Attorneys Association, the PA State Police, the PA Chiefs of Police Association, and the PA State Troopers Association.

Introduced as HB656