Teen Facebook Hacker Convicted of Felony Identity Theft

Last month a California state Court of Appeal ruled in In re Rolando S. that a teenage boy committed felony identity theft when he accessed a girl’s account, altered her profile and posted obscene messages and comments.

The boy was one of several recipients of an unsolicited text message providing the password to the victim’s email account. He used the victim’s email and password to gain access to her Facebook account where he posted, in her name, the following messages:

On a male classmate’s wall: “I want to stick your dick in my mouth and then in my pussy and fuck me really hard and cum on my face.”

On another male classmate’s wall: “When we were dating we should have had sex. I always thought you had a cute dick, maybe we can have sex sometime.”

On the victim’s profile description: “Hey, Face Bookers, [sic] I’m [S.], a junior in high school and college, 17 years young, I want to be a pediatrician but I’m not sure
where I want to go to college yet. I have high standards for myself and plan to meet them all. I love to suck dick.”

The victim found out about the messages and informed
her father who removed the messages from her account and called the police. The boy admitted that he posted the messages and altered the victim’s profile.

A juvenile petition was filed alleging one count of “willfully obtaining personal identifying information and using it for an unlawful purpose” in violation of California state law.

The boy was found guilty in juvenile court and sentenced to a juvenile academy for between 90 days and one year and placed on probation.

The boy argued that since he made no effort to obtain the password, instead passively receiving the text message on his cell phone “without his prior knowledge or consent,” he did not “willfully” obtain the victim’s email account
password for purposes of the statute.

The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, holding that the boy “willfully obtained the victim’s password when he chose to remember the password from the text message, and
later affirmatively used the password to gain access to the victim’s electronic accounts.”

The boy next contended that his conduct failed to satisfy the second element; that he “use[d] [the victim’s] information for any unlawful purpose.” He reasoned that at most he “possibly defamed” the victim, but asserted that civil torts do not constitute an “unlawful purpose” for purposes of the statute.

The Court also rejected this argument explaining that intentional civil torts, such as libel, constitute an “unlawful purpose” for purposes of the statute.

The Court affirmed the juvenile court’s sentence.

For years commentators and technology experts have bemoaned the lack of traditional legal remedies in the brave new world of The Internet. Now more and more courts are finding that good old legal theories such as theft, defamation and invasion of privacy can and do apply in the digital realm, if only judges and lawyers have the courage to apply them.

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