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Law making non-scam lying online a crime is out

Anyone in Pittsburgh who has spent any amount of time on the Internet knows that not everything you read online is true. Personal ads, online resumes, amateur political opinion pieces -- postings of this nature usually need to be taken with a grain of salt. While annoying, many untruths put on the Internet do not rise to the level of a crime -- except in one state, until recently.

Before it was repealed in June, Rhode Island had a law that made someone convicted of "transmission of false data" on the Internet eligible for up to a year in prison and a $500 fine. Unlike most laws that deal with Internet fraud charges, the law does not mention whether the lies created a financial gain for the person responsible or even whether he or she was intending to defraud people of money.

Many, if not most, online lies are about bolstering one's own ego or trying to avoid an argument, not a scam. Think about sending an email thanking a friend for a gift you don't actually like. Or a dating profile that takes five years and 20 pounds off of the person profiled. As the executive director of the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said, "This law made virtually the entire population ... a criminal."

The law was passed in 1989, before the Internet was widely used, and has not been enforced very often. The General Assembly finally voted to repeal it in June, ending the possibility of a misdemeanor conviction for a little white lie online.

Source: WVIT-TV, "Rhode Island Repeals Law Making Online Lies A Crime," June 27, 2012

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