Is it a crime to impersonate someone else online in Mississippi?

The New Crime of “Online Impersonation” in Mississippi

Not too many industries can claim double-digit growth over the past few years.  The use of computers to commit unlawful acts, including cybercrimes, cyberbullying, fraud, harassment, and other crimes continues to increase exponentially year after year.  In Mississippi’s latest attempt to curb the tide of online criminal activity, on July 1, 2011 it became illegal to impersonate another “actual person” on the internet in Mississippi.

The New Law

The law, located at Miss. Code Ann. § 97-45-33, makes it a misdemeanor to “knowingly and without consent impersonate another actual person through or on an Internet website or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening or defrauding another person.”  The person must “reasonably believe . . . that the defendant was or is the person who was impersonated.”

You can commit this crime by opening up an email account or a profile on a social networking site in another person’s name, if you use that identity for illegal purposes.

The Penalties

This crime is a misdemeanor, and is punishable by a fine of between $250.00 – $1000.00 plus court costs, or by imprisonment for not  less than ten days and not more than one year, or both.

The Implications

The law is brand new, and so of course there is no case law (no interpretations of it from the court system) on it yet.  If you come to me with your “online impersonation” case, we are going to look to see if you had a First Amendment right to say what you were saying.  Also, the law doesn’t address the difference between the actual crime, and satire, parody, or just poking fun at someone.  The internet is still a whole new world, and if the authorities are going to get serious about prosecuting internet crime, then your lawyer needs to get serious about defending it.