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Lying online is no longer a crime in Rhode Island

June 26, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • Lying online might have cost you up to $500 in Rhode Island.
Lying online might have cost you up to $500 in Rhode Island. (John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles…)

Online fibbers, truth exaggerators and takers of literary license, we've got good news for you: You can no longer be prosecuted in Rhode Island for lying about your age, your waistline or your sexual prowess online.

State lawmakers have decided to strike a vague and obscure 1989 law that made it a misdemeanor to knowingly provide false information on the Internet for any reason, punishable by fines of up to $500 and as much as a year in prison.

"Lies may make you a scoundrel, cost you a relationship or get you fired, but they shouldn't make you a criminal unless you're trying to commit a fraud or some other offense," said state Rep. Chris Blazejewski, who helped repeal the law.

If California had a similar law, the state might be able to solve its budget crisis just by fining all the actors who lie about their age on IMDB.

The Rhode Island law recently struck down was actually the second paragraph of a law enacted to keep people from lying on the Internet for profit.

The first paragraph of the law, which remains intact, makes it a felony to transmit false data for the purpose of "submitting a claim or payment."

That seems fair enough.

But the troublesome next paragraph, now eliminated, made it a misdemeanor to make, present or use false data "for any other purpose."

And that's where things got murky enough that telling your boss via email that you are sick when really you just want to go shopping might cost you $500.

"This law made virtually the entire state of Rhode Island a criminal," Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union, told the Associated Press. "Telling fibs may be wrong, but it shouldn't be a criminal activity."

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