Impersonating someone else without their consent on social media is already illegal in Romania. On January 26, the Supreme Court of the eastern European country ruled that identity theft on any digital platform constitutes a crime with penalties of up to five years in prison. A pioneering ruling in the European Union, since the judicial institution explicitly recognizes computer crime. Until now, the verdicts in similar cases in France, Belgium, Greece or Italy had been argued for reasons of blackmail, harassment or documentary falsification.
The Supreme Court made the decision to classify this crime following a request from the Court of Appeal of the city of Brasov, located in the center of the country, which had sentenced a man to three years and eight months in prison for spreading “pornography vindictive, ”after posting compromising videos and photos of her ex-partner on an adult website and social network. As the young woman refused to resume the romantic relationship, the individual complied with his threat to upload sexual recordings of both on a porn website and open a profile on Facebook, where he posted images in which the woman appears completely naked.
Initially, the man was convicted in the first instance of blackmail, spreading false information and violation of another person’s private life. However, the confusion generated by different resolutions of various Romanian courts on similar cases in recent years pushed the Brasov Court of Appeal to question the highest judicial institution to rule on identity theft on social networks, a fact which is not typified in current Romanian legislation.
“Some instances interpreted this type of fact alleging the [artículo del] criminal code that prohibits the alteration or falsification of electronic data and others determined that it is an immoral act, but not illegal, ”explains in a telephone call Cristi Danilet, judge of the Court of Cluj, a city embedded in the heart from the Transylvania region. “The difference is that the Supreme Court now specifies that it is also a crime on social networks,” continues Danilet, underlining that the decision of the highest judicial councilor would be binding on all Romanian courts as soon as it was published in the official Monitorul (the Romanian BOE). This Friday, the decision has been published in Monitorul.
In this way, the Supreme Court shelved the matter by ruling that the creation of a profile with the real name of another person without their explicit agreement on a social network where videos and images are disseminated represents a crime with prison sentences of one to five years. To do this, he alluded to two criminal criteria in particular: The action of entering electronic data without someone’s consent and if that action gives rise to data that does not correspond to reality. “There is a third requirement: that they create legal consequences,” asserts the lawyer specialized in cybersecurity Monica Statescu, who specifies that digital crime is a widespread practice in the country and predicts an avalanche of complaints.
Without a doubt, this sentence has already raised blisters. Despite the fact that there is a flood of cases for blackmail and teenagers in court, celebrities are also suffering from this phenomenon.
From well-known communicators and singers to businessmen and athletes, they have already warned that they will file a lawsuit again. “Some know it and others don’t, but I have been a victim of this type of crime,” Ilie Dumitrescu, former Sevilla player, confessed to the Digi24 channel, just the same day that the high court’s sentence was known. “In 2019, I reported the existence of a false profile with my name on Facebook and I just verified that the account administrator has rushed to close it today,” said Dumitrescu, who belonged to the golden generation of Romanian football, along with with Gica Hagi, who peaked in the 1990s.
Another notorious case has been that of the eccentric tycoon, former member of parliament and patron of the former Steaua de Bucharest (now FCSB), Gigi Becali. Taking advantage of the generosity that he usually shows when helping people in need financially, a few days before Christmas fraudsters created three profiles with their name on Facebook in which users were promised prizes of thousands of euros, which generated anxiety among some participants who came to beg impatiently – after having provided personal and bank details – for the amounts allegedly offered by the employer. They were completely unaware that it was a fraud.
“Unfortunately, the malice of false information is so great nowadays that it cannot be controlled through civic education, but sometimes a more severe intervention is required”, explains to EL PAÍS the president of the NGO Active Wacth, Mircea Take. Romania, which will host the future European Cybersecurity Center, took a step towards digital legislation by passing in mid-2020 a law that recognizes cyberbullying as a form of sexist violence, since it seeks to “shame, humiliate or silence the victim ”, Which includes threats over the Internet or when a partner (or ex-partner) sends intimate graphic content without the other person’s consent.
In addition, there were already previous convictions in the country for harmful use of the Internet. A court sentenced the hacker to four years in prison in June 2014 Guccifer for leaking emails from the family of former US President George W. Bush, and from senior Romanian officials, but also for hacking into the Facebook account of former US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Meanwhile, cybersecurity experts warn that the phenomenon does not stop growing. “The first thing we must do is report to the respective social network and present the required evidence, and then file a complaint now that we already have a clear sentence,” says Silviu Stahie, a cybersecurity specialist at the Romanian technology company Bitdefender, by phone.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.