Believe it or not, up until this month, lying on the Internet in Rhode Island was considered a misdemeanor. Any form of lying, be it fudging your height and weight on OK Cupid, changing your name to what’s not on your state ID card on Facebook, or RSVP-ing to a party you never plan to attend. Yep, all those little things we do or say on a regular basis would have landed you a criminal record in the state of Rhode Island.
This was, of course, until state lawmakers decided the 1989 legislation was much too obscure. This month, the General Assembly finally voted to repeal Section 11-52-7 of the Rhode Island General Laws concerning Computer Crime. When the law was put in place back 23 years ago, it intended to stop scammers and con artists from committing online fraud by spreading misinformation. However, the law also stated “transmission of false data” is illegal regardless of malicious or criminal intent, which included a spectrum of tiny lies one would tell in everyday life. If found guilty, the prosecuted would have faced fines of up to $500 or up to a year in jail.
“This law made virtually the entire population of Rhode Island a criminal,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union. “When this bill was enacted nobody had any idea what its ramifications were. Telling fibs may be wrong, but it shouldn’t be criminal activity.”
Despite the extreme nature of this law, only a handful of people were ever convicted of such crime, according to the Associated Press. The repeal of the law was apparently prompted in part by a 2010 case when former prison guard Matthew Lacroix created a fake Facebook account impersonating his boss. Though it is unclear how exactly he used the fake Facebook account or why he made it, Lacroix eventually pleaded guilty to “use of fraudulent information,” was fined $500, and lost his job.
If creating Facebook accounts of someone that you’re not, anyone who has ever created a fake Facebook profile role-playing their favorite celebrities, fictional characters, or public figures would be considered a criminal in the Ocean State. Though the original intent of the law was in protection of netizens, perhaps Rhode Island could formulate an updated version to prevent online frauds from happening. Lying may be an unethical thing to do, but the subjective use of it should be at the discretion of each person and not decidedly an unlawful act.
“Everybody lies online,” said John Grasso, the attorney for Lacroix in the 2010 case. “You shouldn’t be dragged into court and told that you can’t tell people you’re 6 feet tall when you’re not.”
Image Credit: Flickr / luigioss