Catfishing bill walks tightrope between safety, free speech infringement

The most famous case of online impersonation is forever associated with former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who believed his online girlfriend died of leukemia. His supposed girlfriend was no girl, was no friend and was a man just pretending.

It's not all that unusual.

Testimony was heard in the Minnesota House on Wednesday about an Isanti County man using Craigslist for revenge and pretending to be his ex-girlfriend and her daughter, posting ads asking strangers to approach them for sex.

Stories like that is why Rep. Debra Hilstrom of Brooklyn Center introduced a bill that makes it a felony to impersonate someone online in order to harass them. It's also a bill that tries to walk the shaky tightrope between making things safer without infringing on free speech which has the ACLU concerned the bill might make satirizing a politician a crime.

"Your first amendment rights are strongest when you're in a public area in daylight and business hours on public sidewalks, those sorts of things. Once you move out of that realm, even on to the internet, you're talking about where there can be some regulation of your freedom," Steve Aggergaard, a First Amendment attorney at Bassford Remele.

He says the bill might survive First Amendment scrutiny because it only makes it a crime to try to harm someone, turning your speech into an act.

"You have a right to speak, but you don't always have a right to engage in acts, and here, the act of going online and impersonating someone might ultimately be what the crime is and why it survives first amendment scrutiny," he added.

Lawmakers voiced some concerns that this bill may be overly broad, so it could receive some changes.

Up Next:

  • Popular

  • Recent

Stories you may be interested in – includes advertiser stories