ONLINE HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has warned that a bill working its way through the California legislature will make it a crime to impersonate someone online in order to "harm" that person.
The law will make it illegal to create a Facebook or Twitter account with someone else's name, and then use that account to embarrass that person.
The EFF said that "impersonating" corporations and public officials has become an important and powerful form of political activism, especially online."
"For example, the Yes Men, a group of artists and activists, pioneered "identity correction," posing as business and government representatives and making statements on their behalf to raise popular awareness of the real effects of those entities' activities, like the failure to DuPont to adequately compensate victims of the Bhopal disaster and the U.S. government's destruction of public housing units in New Orleans," the EFF said.
Last year, the activists staged a thinly veiled hoax by presenting themselves at a press conference and on a website as the Chamber of Commerce and promised to stop lobbying against strong climate change legislation. The Chamber promptly sued the Yes Men based on a trademark complaint.
Spoof sites and "identity correction" raise awareness about community issues, environmental threats and, most recently, the historical roots of Haiti's economic problems, the EFF said.
The people behind the bill said that there is nothing to worry about as it only applies to "credible" impersonations. They claimed that at the moment victims of online harassment and defamation have little legal recourse.
However the EFF replied that laws against fraud and defamation are already on the books, and they apply online as well as offline. µ