Important California Laws To Know – Cyber-Harassment
Our series of blogs on important California laws to know continues with a look at some criminal offenses rife with the advent of the digital age. These laws are related to the wrongful use of electronic communication devices, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones.
As the internet provided more ways for people to interact at many various levels, the California legislature enacted this code section in 2013 to address a growing problem: the intentional distribution of images that most people would consider intimate. Anyone found guilty of a criminal offense under California Penal Code § 647 is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.
The law only applies in circumstances where the parties involved have agreed that the image is private and must remain private. The invasion must occur under circumstances in which the other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Also, the person distributing the image must know or should know that the distribution of the image will cause serious emotional distress. Finally, the person depicted must suffer this serious emotional distress. Also, the act does not require the victim’s identity to actually be established.
It is important to note that section 647(j)(4) does not apply in several situations. First, the law does not apply to “selfies” – photographs where the victim makes the recording. The law also does not apply to individuals who disseminate or redistribute the recording after it has been initially recorded and publicized. The law only applies to the person who actually makes the recording. While hackers may still be charged with unauthorized computer access under California Penal Code § 502(c), the law also does not apply to them or other third parties who hack, access, and obtain photos or videos without the permission of the owner.
Like Penal Code section 647, this California statute involves conduct where another person intends to place another person in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of the other person’s immediate family. This law specifically applies to conduct where a person uses an electronic communication device to electronically distribute, publish, email, hyperlink, or make available for downloading, personal identifying information including but not limited to a digital image or an electronic message of a harassing nature.
This act is done without the consent of the other person and to imminently cause that other person unwanted physical contact, injury, or harassment. “Harassment” means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, seriously annoying, seriously tormenting, or seriously terrorizing the person and that serves no legitimate purpose. The term“of a harassing nature” means of a nature that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, seriously annoying, seriously tormenting, or seriously terrorizing of the person and that serves no legitimate purpose.
An “electronic communication device” includes, but is not limited to, telephones, cell phones, computers, Internet Web pages or sites, Internet phones, hybrid cellular/Internet/wireless devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), video recorders, fax machines, or pagers. “Electronic communication” has the same meaning as the term is defined in § 2510(12) of Title 18 of the United States Code. Just about any action that may be performed on a computer or modern phone.
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