In the contemporary age, the internet is one of the most visited places. It is easy to get lost in its vastness. Because of the sense of instantaneousness that the internet brings, everything seems to be easier. However, this is not always a good thing. The internet makes it easier to publish data and information in the blink of an eye. One-click then something is made available online. With that, it is easy to see how doing criminal offenses online would also be prevalent. The most common among these digital crimes is the act of posting harmful information on the internet with the intent of causing harm or harassment. To discourage people from committing such atrocities, the state of California enacted PC 653.2.
California Penal Code PC 653.2 is the law that criminalizes the act of indirectly harassing or posting harmful information on the internet. The statute says that 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, using an electronic communication device, and without consent of the other person, and to imminently cause 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 county jail, by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
- Marcus, an influencer, used his social media platform to spread information about her girlfriend for cheating on him. He posted her address, among other things; this, in turn, made his followers harass her in her home.
- Joanna posted a picture of a boy that she likes while he is working in a fast-food restaurant. The post went viral, and people were checking out this boy while making a fuss on the establishment.
Electronic communication means any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic, or photo-optical system that affects interstate or foreign commerce. Examples of electronic communication device include, but is not limited to:
- cell phones,
- Internet Web pages or sites,
- Internet phones,
- hybrid cellular/Internet/wireless devices,
- personal digital assistants (PDAs),
- video recorders,
- fax machines, or
Harassment or “of a harassing nature”
“Harassment” means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, incredibly annoying, seriously tormenting, or seriously terrorizing the person and that serves no legitimate purpose. On the other hand, “of a harassing nature” means an act's nature that a reasonable person would consider seriously alarming, seriously annoying, seriously tormenting, or seriously terrorizing the person. That serves no legitimate purpose.
Penalties for posting harmful information online
Violating PC 653.2 is a California Misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are more serious compared to infractions but less severe than felonies. Under this law, the punishments for posting harmful information on the internet include:
- Serving up to one (1) year in county jail; and/or
- Paying a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).
Instead of spending time in prison, if the court ever finds it reasonable, a defendant can serve his/her sentence outside of jail under summary probation.
When facing PC 653.2 charges because of indirect electronic harassment or publishing harmful information on the internet, here are some of the most common defense that the defendant's legal counsel constantly uses:
- The defendant committed the act intentionally,
- The defendant did not have any harmful intention,
- The defendant was coerced to admit to the crime, or
- There is no enough evidence to incriminate the defendant.
Facing criminal charges would greatly tarnish one's living quality. Aside from incarceration and paying for damages, due to his/her criminal records, he/she will also have significantly less access to civil and social privileges like employment. To avoid this, the best course of action that the accused can take would be to hire our California-based criminal defense lawyers. They will help lessen, if not dismiss the charges altogether.
- California Penal Code PC 273i – Publishing a child's data
- California Penal Code PC 646.9 – Cyberstalking
- California Penal Code PC 653.2 – Publishing personal Information
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