Court Says Logging Into Someone Else's Facebook Page And Posting A Message Can Be Identity Fraud

from the bad-cases,-bad-law dept

Eric Goldman and Venkat Balasubramani discuss a ruling in which a kid who, via a text message from someone (it’s never made clear), was given the password to someone else’s Facebook account. Having the password, the kid logged in and posted some predictably juvenile posts on her wall, and changing her profile to read:

Hey, Face Bookers, [sic] I’m [S.], a junior in high school . . . I want to be a pediatrician but I’m not sure where I want to go to college. I have high standards for myself and plan to meet them all. I love to suck dick.

The kid got charged with a felony for identity fraud (under broad California state laws), and the court actually did find that this amounted to identity fraud. I’m much more inclined to agree with Eric, that while ridiculously childish and obnoxious, the actions really should not amount to a felony. It’s a kid doing stupid things after being given someone else’s password. That kind of thing likely happens all the time. Sure, punish the kid a little, if you must, but the “crime” he’s being charged with seems way out of proportion with what he actually did.

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Comments on “Court Says Logging Into Someone Else's Facebook Page And Posting A Message Can Be Identity Fraud”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: What an odd ruling.

Regardless. Kids do stupid things and they have issues to think about the consequences (if memory serves it has something to do with developing brain functions). The kid should get a few weeks of community service, some spanking, be obliged to apologize publicly and so on but NOT be charged of felony. Specially in a society that spoils them by keeping the problems artificially away and failing to let them develop properly.

Punishment yes, ruin the kid’s life no.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What an odd ruling.

If this is ‘fraud’ then we really need to round up all the dangerous criminals in America’s schools aka teenagers that scrawl ‘for a good time call ____’ on bathroom walls.

I’m not even sure this should be a crime at all, much less a full on felony. Felony is rapidly becoming a word without any meaning.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What an odd ruling.

> Felony is rapidly becoming a word without any meaning.

No, it still means the same thing it always did:

Any crime for which the punishment is more than one year in prison.

Any crime for which the punishment is a year or less is a misdemeanor.

The problem is that politicians– in their zeal to draw attention to themselves for protecting the children and whatnot– don’t even consider misdemeanors any more. They go straight from zero to felony.

Alien Bard says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What an odd ruling.

Thank you, I had forgotten about that definition and had simplified the terms to simply mean criminal vs civil.

I was thinking that this certainly does count as defamation and addressing it as criminal rather than civil might not be such a terrible thing. Unfortunately, I suspect this means many other people (and politicians) are likewise going to simplify the issue and will also miss that same point.

You are correct, this should be a misdemeanor, not a felony. I wonder how many of the problems we see these days are caused by confusion over definitions.

Peter S. Chamberlain (profile) says:

Re: Re: What an odd ruling.

Right. As a retired lawyer with a lot of teen clients, and the victim of assorted state and federal felonies myself, I disagree with the poster who sees posting “for a good time call . . ” on a toilet stall wall as a prank rather than a civil defamation tort or a crime, and doing this on line is worse. “Who steals my good name . . .”
Whether the other teen guilty, who should certainly be punished enough that they don’t do this kind of thing again, should be burdened with a felony, which has serious lasting life-damaging consequences, is a separate issue. We need to deter this kind of conduct, but, unfortunately, teens simply are not deterred by hearing of someone else getting killed driving drunk or high, or getting a life-shattering sentence for a crime. The adults should exercise some judgment and discretion here, and the schools should do a much better job of educating kids not to do things like this.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Excessive punishment

It’s high school gossip.

It’s the direct equivilent of someone at school gossiping about her.

There is no identity theft. She writes another post the next day saying it wasn’t her who posted that in case there is anyone on the planet who didn’t already know she wouldn’t write that in that way.

It’s embarasing, it’s a mean prank, people will tease her, and I’m sure they should all be thrown in an Indonesian for their teasing too but I’m with E. Zachary Knight it’s a high school social problem not a criminal one imho. You have to learn to deal with assholes in highschool, otherwise you won’t be prepared for real life.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Excessive punishment

> If you read the article it does appear that
> the victim has suffered because of this.

Victims suffer from the “for a good time…” graffiti, too. Doesn’t mean the cops need to be involved.

> This should definitely be deterred.

No doubt. I don’t think anyone’s arguing otherwise.

But considering the fact that due to prison overcrowding, we have people who are barely serving six months in prison for aggravated armed robbery, the idea of locking up a kid for a year or more for the equivalent of bathroom graffiti is absolutely absurd.

Alien Bard says:

Re: Re: Excessive punishment

Except that the bathroom wall isn’t likely to show up on a potential employers desk top next to her resume. And even if it did, the employer should easily recognize the difference in penmanship. This is a ‘bit’ more public and a lot more potentially damaging.

But you are right, it still isn’t identity theft.

A Dan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Excessive punishment

To be clear, I’m still not endorsing that this behavior should be against the law. I do not think it should. If he had done the exact same thing to another male student, this would never have gone to court. Friends and enemies play pranks like this on each other all the time. I do not think that it should be criminal just because the victim was female and was upset by it.

Also, I seriously doubt he had to reset her Facebook password. She probably used the same password for both accounts, as most people likely do.

Alien Bard says:

Re: Re: Re: Excessive punishment

Harassment is harassment regardless of who the perpetrator and/or the victims are. I don’t see why her being a female makes any difference.

In fact I have heard of more bullying related suicides by males then by females. Though I don’t know if it’s statistical or not

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Excessive punishment

“the victim should be able to sue for defamation or something”

Typical American… Over here, Facebook rape (as it’s jokingly called) is something that often happens when people leave their phones or laptops unattended. The reaction is typically to laugh it off and buy an extra pint for the victim if they get too annoyed. You’d take it to the courts. That’s sad.

Robert P (profile) says:

I'm okay with it

While this will get cleared up, what if she lost a job opportunity because “she” posted that she likes to suck dick on her facebook profile? What else should be involved to make this a felony. If she said she was going to blow something up or do something violent? What’s the line between casual prank and something that’s damaging to her and others?

If you illegally break into someone’s account and then do stuff, it’s a felony. Hey, I have an idea, don’t do that.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: I'm okay with it

If you illegally break into someone’s account and then do stuff, it’s a felony.

I’m okay with the idea that it’s a crime. A felony, though? That seems far-fetched.

Hey, I have an idea, don’t do that.

Proportionality is importance. Unfortunately, our society has become very supportive of harsh-punishment for every infraction, no matter how minor.

“If he didn’t want to get shot six times in the back, he shouldn’t have been jaywalking!”

el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm okay with it

I live in one of the very few areas of the U.S. that allows prostitution (Nevada outside of Washoe and Clark counties) and we actually had a former lady-of-the-night apply for a secretary position. I’m just a developer but I found an excuse to attend the interview just for the novelty. The best part is her work at the Bunny Ranch was actually on her damned resume!

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, the enforcement of the law is an important goal because it creates a predictable environment in which we can all act with little fear of arbitrary punishment or arbitrary lack of protection. It is true that this kid’s prank may have caused significant suffering to his victim and there should be a fairly high predictability that such actions have severe consequences as a deterrent. Now, going to jail might be extreme, but a fine and community service would be appropriate.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But the law today is anything but predictable. It’s become that if you make the wrong people angry, they will charge you with some twisting of a crime that sends you to prison for 10-20 years for something where people were barely or not even hurt, unless you plea it down to 2 years. Or you will get fined more money than you will make the rest of your life. Again, at someone’s whim.

If you think that constitutes predictable, you are not living in the same world that I am.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Completely correct.

People now believe that the law exists for its own sake, and not as a means to an end. Any violation of the law is seen as a sign of evil intentions, and must be punished harshly.

The ironic part is that I’m sure many of the people who cheer for harsh punishment in some of these cases didn’t have any idea previously that the action in question was even a crime.

“Yeah! I hope that man gets anally-raped in prison! How dare he import orchids into the US without federal approval?”
“So, prior to this story, you knew that importing orchids into the US required federal approval?”
“Well, no . . .”

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I think the problem is that most likely the identity fraud statutes assumed that your identity was “stolen” (Somebody is going to have to explain to me how it is your identity can be stolen unless it’s a broader commentary on the way commercialization of our social and economic relationships subsumes our identities.) to steal your money, use your credit rating, sign up for health insurance or some other very damaging thing. The interesting question would be what sentence the kid got. As long as he got off with community service and a fine, I don’t think it’s a problem. If he went to jail, that’s a bit excessive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

except regardless of what punishment he got being convicted of a felony can have lasting impacts for the kids life.
Convicted felons can not hold a security clearance so no jobs that ever require that for this kid.

In many parts of the United States, a convicted felon can face long-term legal consequences persisting after the end of their imprisonment, including:
Disenfranchisement (which the Supreme Court interpreted to be permitted by the Fourteenth Amendment)
Exclusion from obtaining certain licences, such as a visa, or professional licenses required in order to legally operate (making many vocations off-limits to felons)
Exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition and body armor
Ineligibility for serving on a jury
Ineligibility for government assistance or welfare, including being barred from federally funded housing

John Doe says:

We need to think before we ruin his life

I posted this on an earlier post but will repeat it here.

We need to think hard about what we are doing to people when we convict them of stuff like this. If this kid gets a felony record, assuming it isn’t cleared when he reaches 18 if he isn’t already, he is screwed for life. First, he may get jail time at the expense of taxpayers. Second, he will likely not get into college or get a good job with a felony record. So he will be stuck flipping burgers. So again, taxpayers will be paying for his welfare and food stamps.

Or worse, he sinks to a life of real crime because he loses hope. So what exactly has society gained by nailing this guy to the wall for what amounts to a childish prank?

This goes for many other crimes today. Punishment must fit the crime or society as a whole will suffer, not just the “criminals”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We need to think before we ruin his life

Things like that get expunged at age 18.

People misbehaving is what brings this on. The constant “vilification of the victim” culture brings this on.

It’s very simple: If people can’t police themselves, then government will do it for them. End of story.

And I’m glad they do.

John Doe says:

Re: Re: We need to think before we ruin his life

But what if he is already 18? Or if an adult does this? Would you really be for making someone into a felon for crap like this? Do you really want to pay for them for the rest of your life in higher taxes when a large percentage of the population becomes felons?

Does the punishment really fit the crime here? Was there even a crime?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: We need to think before we ruin his life

In order for people to ‘police themselves’ they’d need the means to do so, including:

-Citizen’s arrest (especially needed to arrest cops; a cop won’t do that)

-Right to bear arms (and not just the pea-shooters “most” state gov’ts “allow” us to have . . .)

-Right to defend themselves (immunity from civil prosecution included)

-Right to defend their property (right to terminate intruders, immunity from civil prosecution)

-Right to defend other people (immunity from prosecution while rendering aid or defence to another person)

-Recourse in the event of immoral laws (technically still kinda-legal, but nobody actually exercises it; just admitting you know about the option generally gets you jury-exempted)

The US began with all of these things, but every single one of them is functionally erased now; do you really think people can “police themselves” when the only effective means to do so have been made illegal, and breaking the law has become a crime unto itself?

keniri says:

I’m in agreement with the courts. When you log into someone else’s account and post with that account, you’re posing as that person, what can be described as impersonating that person.

I think this is a great thing for the courts to start taking seriously because people need to be aware that using someone else’s account to commit fraud, you should be held liable for that.

Matthew A. Sawtell (profile) says:

So a budding Barry Vincent Ardolf wannabe got busted? Good...

… because after reading the appeal judgment brief…

… I began to remember a few stanzas from Sublime’s Song – Date Rape. Looks like someone may have to back up “his” statements in the local correctional facility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Should sue him and his parents for defamation. And yeah, it is fraud. He is a minor so it will be wiped when he becomes an adult. They should throw the book at him in the mean time.

“Oh, for the children” is really getting old! Childish or not, this was a crime. The court rule should stand and those of you that think it is to harsh should have this happen to you and then see how you feel.

The both of them should lose internet as they both don’t seem to understand how to be responsible with it. Both sets of parents should be fixed to avoid them from having anymore ID10Ts.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's all involuntary!

It’s pathetic that most courts seem to think that prepending the word ‘wilfully’ to any action somehow makes it sound worse (usually to justify some draconian or flat-out illegal ruling) — as if every action we ordinarily take is the result of some on-going cerebral palsy and we never actually intend any of the things we do day-to-day.

David Good (profile) says:

Legislation in the past has been so specific that when new things were invented, it failed to take new technology into account.

Therefore, when “hacking” and “identity theft” legislations were enacted, they were intentionally broad, to cover things that had not yet been invented. Unfortunately, this means people playing “jokes” with no real victim are made into felons.

By this legislation, if I let my niece send farmville gifts to herself using my facebook, she could be charged with a felony. I agree, that’s ridiculous. But it’s the law, and it’s law enforcement’s job to execute the laws our legislators write.

So if you think the legislation enabling this to be a felony sucks, you need to contact your legislators.

Bor says:

He didn’t get the password to her Facebook account, he got the password to her email account, then reset her Facebook password.

When you think about it that’s actually more serious on a number of grounds.

And further, finding someone’s password isn’t license to go around changing passwords and taking over accounts any more than finding someone else’s credit card is an excuse to go on a shopping spree.

Anonymous Coward says:

How long until this is the standard 'dog ate my homework' excuse for all the 'bad' things employers find on your facebook page?

I agree that the perpetrator should be punished, but not with a felony conviction.

How long before the ‘unintended consequences’ of this start showing up? Denied a job due to ‘wall postings’? Claim your account was hacked and someone else posted those things about you partying your azz off in Cabo…

Elois Clayton says:

Not a Felony

“Not A felony”:
Felony: YES
Misdemeanor: Either maybe OR NOT;reason: You are making decisions as to the depth of the punishment, on one hand, calling it a felony(child behavior), then being UNdecided, when deciding whether it should be labelled as a misdemeanor.
Finally,(Juvenile) your reversing your decision BACK to calling it in an UNdeciding manner.
Conclusion: Some individuals are used as an example when punished for what ARE crimes.
The question is, is the punishment being given because it’s an election year or is this child being given such punishment because of the judge’s decision, because in such cases as a judge making his final decision, could be because of maybe he/she, has personal vandetta’s, angers or they simply ARE trying to teach that child a lesson, with TRUE HOPES, that they learn a very serious lesson.
In some cases, that child NEVER EVER phantom such behavior, if they are frightened from a jail experience.
Some children does learn from BOOTCAMP OR time with criminals who will try and show them that they really don’t want to ruin their lives with such bad behaviors and will suggest that they separate themselves from such friends, find something more productive to do with all of that idol time on their hands, so that they can avoid trouble later in ther lives, which seems to be the BEST advice a person who is actually doing what they should do and that is, doing what they can to prevent the next generation of children from ruinning their lives.

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