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


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  1. identicon
    Robert Schonfeld, 28 Nov 2013 @ 5:39am

    Facebook should look more carefully when posting liquor ads such as beer and wine and also look into their own policy guidelines as well.

    it is a felony any way you see it sir .Just like going into a strip club like as if someone were to lie about there age as well may i ask.It is also illegal for alcohol mind you.The law should be reprimanded may i add ares is too soft.Other states are very harsh and in there states it would be considered a federal crime by now.If you drink and drive or get behind the wheel drunk that is against the law.Selling it purchasing it or marketing even promoting it as well.Is also against the law without a liquor license or a warrant or a permit as well.This is something nothing to be played with sir .We hear about false statements and false acquasations all the time as well even arrests mind you which could go on your permanent record as well.

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