Sep 1

Online Harassment: New Texas Internet Law Goes Into Effect

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texas

12/16/2009 Update – Please note that I will not be handling any cases involving this law. Consult law enforcement regarding harassment. For civil claims, consult an attorney who specializes in litigation with defamation case experience.

10/19/2012 Update – DO NOT CONTACT MY OFFICE TO REPRESENT YOU IN CYBER BULLYING/INTERNET HARASSMENT CASES. I will not take your case, provide you with legal advice, or serve as a free lawyer referral service either. If you are looking for a lawyer for this type of case, click this link as a good place to start.

Don’t mess with anyone in Texas online.  Effective September 1, 2009, a new Texas law makes it a crime to engage in various activities on commercial social networking sites or by e-mail, instant messaging etc. You can read the actual text of the bill below. Although self-explanatory (to lawyers at least), it seems pretty clear that Texas lawmakers don’t want people impersonating others on the Internet in order to harm, threaten, intimidate, or defraud anyone. The law also covers text messaging. Note that depending on the activities involved, the crime can be either a Class A Misdemeanor or a 3rd degree felony.

Expect there to be legal challenges to the constitutionality of this law. That being said, you don’t want to be the person arrested under it who has to pay the legal bills for that challenge.

12/16/2009 Update – Please note that I will not be handling any cases involving this law. Consult law enforcement regarding harassment. For civil claims, consult an attorney who specializes in litigation with defamation case experience.

H.B. No. 2003

AN ACT
relating to the creation of the offense of online harassment.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1.  Chapter 33, Penal Code, is amended by adding
Section 33.07 to read as follows:

Sec. 33.07.  ONLINE HARASSMENT. (a) A person commits an
offense if the person uses the name or persona of another person to
create a web page on or to post one or more messages on a commercial
social networking site :
(1)  without obtaining the other person’s consent; and
(2)  with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or
threaten any person.
(b)  A person commits an offense if the person sends an
electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar
communication that references a name, domain address, phone number,
or other item of identifying information belonging to any person:
(1)  without obtaining the other person’s consent;
(2)  with the intent to cause a recipient of the
communication to reasonably believe that the other person
authorized or transmitted the communication; and
(3)  with the intent to harm or defraud any person.
(c)  An offense under Subsection (a) is a felony of the third
degree.  An offense under Subsection (b) is a Class A misdemeanor,
except that the offense is a felony of the third degree if the actor
commits the offense with the intent to solicit a response by
emergency personnel.
(d)  If conduct that constitutes an offense under this
section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor
may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.
(e)  It is a defense to prosecution under this section that
the actor is any of the following entities or that the actor’s
conduct consisted solely of action taken as an employee of any of
the following entities:
(1)  a commercial social networking site ;
(2)  an Internet service provider;
(3)  an interactive computer service, as defined by 47
U.S.C. Section 230;
(4)  a telecommunications provider, as defined by
Section 51.002, Utilities Code; or
(5)  a video service provider or cable service
provider, as defined by Section 66.002, Utilities Code.
(f)  In this section:
(1)  ” Commercial social networking site ” means any
business, organization, or other similar entity operating a website
that permits persons to become registered users for the purpose of
establishing personal relationships with other users through
direct or real-time communication with other users or the creation
of web pages or profiles available to the public or to other users.
The term does not include an electronic mail program or a message
board program.
(2)  “Identifying information” has the meaning
assigned by Section 32.51.
SECTION 2.  This Act takes effect September 1, 2009.

Internet Lawyer

Internet lawyer Mike Young helps business owners protect themselves. Whether you're wanting website legal help, ecommerce agreements, technology contracts, corporate formation, LLC formation, or want to buy or sell an Internet-related business, Mike may be able to help you or refer you to someone who can.

  1. Karin Hiebert 2 Sep 2009 |

    WOW! Just wow! Great News~ Love it!

    Love your blog Mike Young ~ it has become a FAVORITE!

    Learning SO MUCH here!

    • Mike Young 2 Sep 2009 |

      Thanks, Karin. Will be interesting to see if the law withstands constitutional scrutiny. Even if it does, my hunch is that it will be hard to prove the “intent” element of the crimes. On the other hand, a client of mine came up with a novel proposal for using the law…prosecuting online marketers who use their competitors’ names in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising (like Google Adwords) to drive traffic. Clearly the names are being used without consent and with intent. The question arises whether this would qualify as fraud. Interesting times as politicians try to fit Internet square pegs into round hole laws.

      Best wishes,

      -Mike

  2. Joshua Thompson 13 Sep 2009 |

    hey Mike:
    perhaps you can clarify something for me. there are these days many message boards and forums im sure you’ve come across them. in an anonymous setting like a message board is it a crime to say something like “im gonna kill you” to someone else. keeping in mind people are probably from different states. is it reasonable to expect someone to feel threatened by a comment like that? i’ve been looking online for hours and your article is the closest thing i have to finding more information about my question.

    i have an understanding of the law as it pertains to emails and text messages but not anything on anonymous messageboards.

    thank you.

    -Josh

    • Mike Young 13 Sep 2009 |

      Joshua,

      There are multiple federal and state laws that cover this from a criminal law standpoint.

      In addition, there can be civil tort claims, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

      Best wishes,

      -Mike

  3. T. Wright 20 Sep 2009 |

    I have an incident that I think is going to qualify under this law who would be the best person to contact in regards to establishing a case…

    • Mike Young 21 Sep 2009 |

      That depends on your goal. Some will use the new law simply to contact the harasser (or have their Internet lawyer do it) and get the harassment to stop by making them aware of the criminal liability for it. Others will contact local Texas law enforcement and pursue the matter criminally. Because the law is new, probably a good idea to take a copy of it with you if meeting with law enforcement because some simply aren’t going to be aware of its existence.

      Best wishes,

      -Mike

  4. christi rodriguez 7 Oct 2009 |

    just curious if there is anything for general harassment. Ther is a girl who wont leave me alone! She emails and texts me like 40-50 times a day even when I have requested 20 times in one day to stop contacting me. Can I do anything?

    • Mike Young 7 Oct 2009 |

      Christi,

      There are both criminal and civil claims that may apply. You should to talk to a local attorney about sending a cease-and-desist letter to your harasser. If you’ve been threatened or fear for your personal safety, skip that step and talk with your local police department immediately.

      Best wishes,

      -Mike

  5. jojett 25 Oct 2009 |

    i am trying to find out if there is any thing that can be done about a person talking about you on the internet at a topix fourm. he tells personal and private informaton about your life that is not for the public he talks about things that happened to me as a child that i did not have any control over he has eve threated my daughters life and the law enforcement said that nothing would be done about it. he is always talking dirty on this site too. i have writtn the site and told about the death threat but was ot contacted back so any information would be most welcome thanks

    • Mike Young 25 Oct 2009 |

      Consult a local trial lawyer who handles libel/defamation cases. At a minimum, the lawyer should be able to get a cease-and-desist out on your behalf…perhaps a lot more.

      Best wishes,

      -Mike

  6. Mona 27 Oct 2009 |

    Wow I cannot believe I found your site. This law is an eye opener and I never would have known about it if it had not been for you. I am currently going through something similar with a company I am a contracting with. For years I have worked with a work at home company writing posts, giving job leads (voluntary), etc. and recently I was attacked by a “member” of the site on a political issue. The last time I was attacked I stood up for myself and was told I had to apologize. This time I ignored this person but I noticed a lack of moderation to these sorts of attacks. It made me suspicious. After the most recent attack, the moderator has been on my case about the frequency of my posts, etc. I had to dig up terms she agreed to , to get her off my back. She saw I was right and then she backed off. At that point, she went to find something else. This time she claims I have several blogs (untrue) and its a violation of my non-compete clause. She has been criticizing things I have done that are not even related to the website in an attempt to make me look incompetent. Now I am being harassed with signing a new contract. The icing on the cake is the new contract is favorable for them but would be suicide for myself. I also recently learned that the person who was attacking recently was HER using a fake name. They are in AZ but I am in Texas, would this law apply to them or do I have to go by where the person is located. What, if anything, can I do to get them off my back? The emotional stress alone is killing me.

    • Mike Young 27 Oct 2009 |

      Talk with a Texas law enforcement official about this and mention the new harassment law. A Texas resident being victimized on website accessible in Texas should be adequate for local law enforcement to pursue the matter even if the person committing the offense lives elsewhere. You may also want to talk with a local trial lawyer who handles tort cases about pursuing this in civil court.

      Best wishes,

      -Mike

  7. jojett 27 Oct 2009 |

    thanks for the information i will look in to it.

  8. Mr. Owl 7 Nov 2009 |

    Harm is a pretty vague term? Infringe is not? So any member of the US Congress that harms my budget by requiring that I buy health insurance potentially commits a third degree felony? Too many people use the word “harm” for impossible to prove (or justify) mental thought claims that cover a whole lot of territory, and as such, the 1st Amendment protects free speech from being controlled by the government?

    Infringe means to break, or tresspass and when combined with the word “on” means to encroach (which means to by steps, or by stealth, to take away the rights or trespass on the rights of others?) Speech is not classified by whether or not it is truthful, or what impact it has on people, according to the 1st amendment?

    By this argument, a criminal could simply say that your laws harm his point of view, for whatever crime he committed? What kind of logic is that? Perhaps it is time to leave America, because if we can’t have free speech, a lot of other freedoms are about to go next?

    What if you do something stupid, and make somebody angry, and they tell you are they are angry, they are wrong instead of you because you don’t like what they said? That’s a perfect law for a dictator? Why do law makers think they have to change any laws when they are working fine?

  9. Teka Harris 20 Nov 2009 |

    Leave it to Texans to pass unconstitutional, unenforceable laws.

    Do they have any idea the amount of resources it could take to enforce a single infraction?
    This law is laughable from an enforcement standpoint.

    • Mike Young 20 Nov 2009 |

      Teka,

      From the comments I’ve been receiving, it doesn’t look like the law is being enforced.

      Best wishes,

      -Mike

  10. cc 20 Nov 2009 |

    It is impossible to prove the validity of a text message or even an email in many circumstance. Everything can be spoofed.

  11. fearful 12 Dec 2009 |

    Is there any repercussion if an ex-boyfriend is threatening your friends? Mine just sent a male friend of mine an e-mail saying he had contacted that friend’s employer with defamation. The e-mail was also very threatening. Could I take action or would my friend have to be the one?

    • Mike Young 14 Dec 2009 |

      See the police for any threats of violence made against your or your friend. Consult a defamation attorney regarding any civil claims you or your friend might have.

      Best wishes,

      -Mike

  12. B. Parker 16 Feb 2010 |

    Mike, this new law was just brought to my attention by a friend of mine who has also been a victim of the person that is harassing me. I am trying to figure out the first step that needs to take place, whether I go to the police to file a report against her, or do I need to go to an attorney and file through the courts. The person has harassed me for the past year through email and Facebook. I am a school teacher and as you know, most school district just hope that the matter passes on with the least amount of problems. The person has tried for almost a year to get myself and my assistant directors fired, by way of false accusations and flat out lies. Her daughter is now graduated and she still attempts to harass me. I would have filed libel and defamation on her last year however It would have been very hard to prove damages, especially monetary – unless she would have succeeded in getting us fired. She is known throughout the city for her cyber bullying to both adults and children. This past week I feel she finally stepped over the line, especially with the new law in place. She sent me and email in which she made up an email address but in another persons name. I know the person well and he is so distraught over what she has done. She has harassed him as well as many others. She sent me the email knowing I would open it as I only saw my friend’s name on the top. My question is: Do I have grounds to file against her with the new law since she sent me the harassing email, or does the person in which she used his name to make the email account have to file and/or can we both file together? I know she would probably only be getting a Class A Misdemeanor as it seems to fit under (b) emailing that refers a name etc without consent, with the intent to make me believe it came from the other person and intent to harm or defraud us. I would love to hear from you to know if you think I could do something to help stop this person from hurting others.

    I have done some research and I know her IP address, her computer Domain Signature Key as well as the provider of her service for Internet. I also have enough emails and witnesses to fill a 2 inch binder.

    Thank you, Barbie

    • Mike Young 17 Feb 2010 |

      Barbie,
      You and your friend need to make an appointment with your local law enforcement. Take a copy of the new law with you because some law enforcement officers are not aware of its existence. Take all of your documentation too.
      You and your friend should also consult with a local attorney about possible civil remedies you may have against your harasser too.
      Best wishes,
      -Mike

  13. Annonymous 22 Feb 2010 |

    About a year ago I was harrassed by a friend and her friend. I was living with my friend and she kicked me out. Well I ended up moving away from Texas. After some time I have come to find out that my license # has been used in various places and that my social has also been used, but these things have been non malicious, apparently. These people had access to my information when I was living there. Now, I will admit, that when I realized that my personal information was being used I did text and pretty much was mean but non threatening. Anyways I live in another state and there has been a rumor that I went back to Texas and now I have been informed by them that they have called the authorities on me. I loan my computer to my neighbors friends pretty much anyone that needs it and I don’t control what they do. I am not quite sure what the allegations towards me are but I am too far and too busy to deal with them. Well I can’t get any info from the authorities and I would like to know what I can do about this issue. Please advise

  14. Gary Peak 9 Mar 2010 |

    I have a situation where Ex spouse posted SS and drivers license and a ton of other stuff on web site and links to site in several other places, one AARP social forum. I found one federal statute I believe makes it a criminal offense, but what information can you add that might help. I tried to make it fit under the 33.07 language but it would be a stretch. Thanks

    • Mike Young 9 Mar 2010 |

      I don’t practice criminal law. Consult with a local lawyer who handles both civil tort and criminal defense cases. That lawyer will be able to help you determine remedies under both civil and criminal law. You can then plan a course of action that makes the most sense to you under your particular circumstances.
      Best wishes,
      -Mike

  15. Karin Hiebert 9 Mar 2010 |

    Mike,

    I am going to assume you know about the Fake Karin Hiebert Blog that was put up by an internet marketer / copy writer who had an issue with me.

    Could you please comment on that… as far as someone doing something like this…

    a simple google search on my name brings up the fake blog any time someone searches my name.

    Thanks,

    ~ Karin Hiebert

    • Mike Young 9 Mar 2010 |

      Karin,
      Rights and remedies in these types of cases vary by jurisdiction. Consult a qualified attorney in your province. You can then decide whether to pursue remedies based upon where you’re located and/or in the state of the individual who is impersonating you online.
      Best wishes,
      -Mike