Romania criminalises creating fake social media accounts

It’s a criminal offence to create a fake social media account in the name of another person, a court in Romania has ruled.

Opening an account that looks like someone else without their consent is a “crime of forgery”, said the High Court of Cassation and Justice, the country’s panel for resolving legal issues in criminal matters.

It comes after a case in Braşov in December 2018 where a man had threatened his former girlfriend with uploading compromising photos.

The woman had been told that if she did not resume their relationship, several naked photos of her would be published on the internet.

The man later created an online profile with the woman’s name on an adult site, where he uploaded sexual videos of the two.

The suspect was initially sentenced to three years and eight months in prison on charges of blackmail, forgery, and violation of privacy, a decision now upheld by the high court.

“Essentially, if someone is pretending to be someone else on a social network and it can be proved that they used the profile for the purpose of creating legal consequences, then they may have committed the criminal offence of computer forgery and be sanctioned accordingly,” said Monica Statescu, a Romanian lawyer specialising in cybersecurity.

The court noted two criminal criteria in particular; the act of entering computer data without someone’s consent and if that action results in data that does not correspond to the truth.

Statescu told Euronews that the decision was now binding for all other courts in Romania.

Last year, Romania also passed a new law recognising cyber harassment as a form of domestic violence, where it intends to “shame, humble, scare, threat, or silence the victim”.

This law included online threats or messages, or where a partner sends intimate graphic content without the other person’s consent.

Many social media giants, like Facebook and Twitter, have policies in place to prevent fake profiles from being created.

“Twitter accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy,” the company states, adding that parody, commentary, and fan accounts are permitted.

Facebook meanwhile does not allow accounts that impersonate others, specifically if they use their photos with the “explicit aim to deceive others”.

“Our Authenticity Policies are intended to create a safe environment where people can trust and hold one another accountable,” the company states.

Other EU countries have also already outlawed online identity “forgery”, including Belgium and France.

In 2007, an Italian man was found guilty of creating a false ID online to offer fake work opportunities to other users and gain access to their personal data. The Italian Cassation Court sentenced the individual to 10 months imprisonment for violating the country’s criminal code.

“Generally member states have similar legislation regulating cybercrime,” said Statescu.

“Although some of them do not specifically incriminate online identity theft, they have general cybercrime provisions which cover under their scope online identity theft.”

“It is debatable if the social platform owners are able to or should be held accountable for policing the platform and if so, to what extent they should do so.”

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