Congress Debating If Putting A Fake Name On Facebook Should Be A Felony

from the how-to-turn-the-whole-world-into-felons dept

On Wednesday, George Washington Law professor and former federal prosecutor Orin Kerr authored an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, posing the question "Should faking a name on Facebook be a felony?" He was, of course, talking about the infamous Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which Congress is preparing to update. The CFAA, as has been noted here many times, is a federal law passed in the '80s and initially designed to combat malicious computer hacking, but which has become bloated, stretched and over-applied in the years since.

At the root of many of the arguably overreaching applications of the CFAA is the prohibition on conduct which "exceeds authorized access" to a computer system. According to Kerr:
The problem is that a lot of routine computer use can exceed "authorized access." Courts are still struggling to interpret this language. But the Justice Department believes that it applies incredibly broadly to include "terms of use" violations and breaches of workplace computer-use policies.

Breaching an agreement or ignoring your boss might be bad. But should it be a federal crime just because it involves a computer? If interpreted this way, the law gives computer owners the power to criminalize any computer use they don't like.
And Professor Kerr should know, he was the attorney who defended Lori Drew when she was charged with a felony for making a fake MySpace profile. The Justice Department's position that a violation of a terms of service constitutes a federal crime basically makes the Federal government the enforcer of private contracts. Got an employee spending too much time on Facebook? Turn them in to the Feds. Someone posting comments you just don't like on your blog? Call the DOJ. Or threaten to. The chilling effect alone should be enough to keep your users in line.

Would you believe that some politicians are even thinking of making the bill even worse?

Professor Kerr's primary concern expressed in the op-ed was that the CFAA was going to be amended to make any violation of the CFAA a felony. Hopefully, this won't pan out. The original Administration proposal (pdf) did increase the baseline punishment for any violation of the CFAA (including exceeding authorized access) from a misdemeanor level offense (less than one year) to a felony. But, thankfully, the Judiciary Committee didn't take the Administration's suggestion. Lets hope it stays that way as this bill makes its epic journey through the Washington legislative sausage maker.

There is yet a glimmer of rational-thought hope. Senators Grassley and Franken have introduced an amendment (pdf) which would modify the definition of "exceeds authorized access" to exclude violations of a TOS, if that's the only basis for the charge of violating the CFAA, effectively improving the CFAA instead of making it worse. Fingers crossed that the amendment makes it in.

Filed Under: cfaa, felony, hacking, orin kerr, terms of service


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Amy Freeman, 29 Apr 2013 @ 12:19pm

    Congress Debating If Putting A Fake Name On Facebook Should Be A Felony

    After what has happened to me on Facebook,there needs to be some penalties for fake names. Long story short, my partner was overseas in Korat Thailand on extended assignment, the young women at his work befriended him on facebook, and all used fake names. They then had a scheme where a male co-worker introduced them through a joint date, and arranged a dating service to the men on assignment. These women maintain the relationship using the false facebook alias. Then they take the mens facebook information for their partners back home, and start contacting them through Facebook. I was lucky enough to determine 2 of the women's real names. This company is the largest company in Korat, and this looks like it has been going on for years. I found out this is very common for Thai women to initiate and maintain affairs with men. Facebook has given Thai's easy access to affairs, but you can fight back.... This was a very very scary event for me and opened up me a whole new (very dark) world. Thailand is abusing Facebook to no ends. Most users have between 1000 and 2000 friends on average, many of the women have false identities, and those alias facebook women are very effectively destroying our social fabric in the United States....This is truly sad, and unfortunately a statement of how powerful social media has become.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.