Although there’s been a lot of discussion about the potential for criminal prosecutions arising from online impersonation, New Jersey is one of the first states to see an actual prosecution for identity theft on social media. The lucky winner is Dana Thornton, a somewhat unbalanced-seeming 41-year-old woman from Bellville, NJ, who is accused of creating a fake Facebook page to defame her ex-boyfriend.
And defame she did, if the accusations are true: apparently Thornton used photos and personal information about her ex-boyfriend, a narcotics detective from northern New Jersey, to create a Facebook page where she then posted extremely unflattering statements supposedly made by the man himself. For example, the profile proclaimed that the individual in question liked to spend money on prostitutes, had herpes, was “high all the time,” and summed it all up with this sweeping self-indictment: “I’m a sick piece of scum with a gun.” As there’s no leniency for catchy turns of phrase, Thornton faces up to 18 months for fourth-degree identity theft, “for the purpose of obtaining a benefit for himself or another or to injure or defraud another.”
While this might strike the casual observer as just another colorful slice of New Jersey life, the court case is actually important because of a decision already rendered by the court -- specifically, the ruling that the case can proceed under existing identity theft law, even though the statute doesn’t specifically include electronic media as one of the venues where identity theft may occur.
State Superior Court Judge David Ironson brushed off an argument to that effect from Thornton’s lawyer, who said that the case should be dismissed because the statute didn’t mention electronic media. In his ruling Ironson wrote: “The fact that the means of committing the crime are not set forth in the statute doesn't lead to the conclusion that the defendant didn't commit the crime.” The NJ legislature is currently considering amending the identity theft statute to explicitly include electronic media. Currently only New York and California have laws explicitly banning online identity theft.