Prosecutors Go Overboard In Indicting Woman Involved In MySpace Hoax That Resulted In Suicide
from the out-for-vengeance dept
Before we get into the details, I think everyone can agree that the story of Megan Meier is quite tragic. She was the 13-year-old girl who was “friended” on MySpace by a boy with whom she became close online. After a certain amount of time, the boy turned on her, trying to end the friendship and saying that “the world would be better off without her.” After receiving this message, Megan committed suicide. Later, it was discovered that the boy in question never existed — and was part of a hoax perpetrated by some of Megan’s friends/neighbors, including the mother of one of Megan’s former friends. The story is, most definitely, sad and tragic — and it’s no surprise that there are people out for vengeance, with the main target being Lori Drew, the adult who participated in some manner in the hoax. However, as we said back when state prosecutors in Missouri couldn’t find any law to prosecute, being a total jerk online is not a crime. As stupid as the prank was, it wasn’t designed to make the girl commit suicide.
But, of course, when you have a high profile case that includes a 13-year-old girl committing suicide after being misled, people are still going to push for something to be done (or they end up doing something themselves). So with state prosecutors failing to find anything, federal prosecutors stepped in, and have now indicted Lori Drew on a number of different charges, relating to “conspiracy and fraudulently gaining access to someone else’s computer.” This seems like a serious stretch. It’s an effort to twist existing laws just to punish this particular woman because people are upset by the outcome. Legal scholars are already quite worried about how the indictments appear to twist the law in potentially unconstitutional ways.
Why? Well, some of the charges are based on computer anti-fraud laws that prevent “unauthorized access.” And, here’s where the prosecutors got creative: they claim that in not providing truthful info to MySpace when registering (i.e., in breaking the terms of service), effectively Lori Drew “hacked” into MySpace’s computers in an unauthorized manner. Now, no matter what you think of what Lori Drew did (or what happened as a result), this would basically make anyone who fails to follow the exact terms of service of an online service a potential felony hacker. That is a problem. I recognize the desire to punish someone for what happened to Megan — but twisting the law this way will have very dangerous consequences.