Important California Laws To Know – Posting Harmful Information On The Internet
In 2010, the California legislature enacted a law to counteract certain criminal conduct on the internet. Necessitated by the growing use of technology and social media, California lawmakers have established different laws to fight internet crimes, including a statute (known as posting harmful information on the internet, California Penal Code § 653.2) prohibiting indirect harassment on the internet. This offense is typically charged as a misdemeanor.
The internet presents opportunities for many people to involve themselves in different internet crimes without their knowledge. The law against indirect electronic harassment is defined under California Penal Code § 653.2 PC, which reads as follows:
“Every person who, with intent to place another person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of the other person’s immediate family, by means of an electronic communication device, and without consent of the other person, and for the purpose of imminently causing that other person unwanted physical contact, injury, or harassment, by a third party, electronically distributes, publishes, e-mails, hyperlinks, or makes available for downloading, personal identifying information, including, but not limited to, a digital image of another person, or an electronic message of a harassing nature about another person, which would be likely to incite or produce that unlawful action, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in a county jail, by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”
Thus, the statute imposes liability for the following:
- The utilization of an electronic device to publish, hyperlink, email, distribute, or make the content capable of being downloaded, information that is of a harassing nature;
- Without the consent of the intended person;
- To intentionally place the person in a sensible fear for his or her safety or immediate family;
- Imminently causing unwanted contact, harassment, and injury to the other person; and
- The targeted individual identified that the information posted, likely incited, harassed, injured, or produced an unwanted contact.
The aforementioned elements must be shown to prosecute someone in a California court of law.
The first element contains two parts or sub-elements. The first is the use of an electronic device and the second is using such electronic communication for the purposes of harassment. Electronic devices include, but are not limited to, cell phones, computers, telephones, internet web pages/websites, personal data assistants, fax machines, and video recorders.
Harassment under the statute means the willful cause of conduct directed at another person and would be perceived as serious, alarming, tormenting, terrorizing, and annoying, without any legitimate purpose. Harassment through electronic communication may occur when information is distributed or sent. It is illegal to distribute, post, email, or disclose any other person’s information without his or her consent. The likely effect occurs when the sending or distribution would incite or harass a third party. The intention of the sender or distributor must have the purpose of placing the other person in rational fear for his or her safety. The intended purpose of causing fear to the respective person must be achieved through the acknowledgment of the targeted individual.
Indirect harassment on the internet is considered as part of domestic violence under California law. Penal Code § 1203.097 considers every crime that involves any protected party listed under California Family Code § 6211 as a domestic violence offense. These parties include a former cohabitant, spouse, child, parent, or someone the offender is currently dating.
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