Speak Up And Fix The CFAA

from the don't-make-it-worse dept

A bunch of internet activists, including Fight for the Future and Demand Progress, among others, have launched a new site: FixTheCFAA.com, asking people to contact their lawmakers and demand that they fix the CFAA law, rather than make it worse.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the law under which Aaron Swartz and other innovators and activists have been threatened with decades in prison. The CFAA is so broad that law enforcement says it criminalizes all sorts of mundane Internet use: Potentially even breaking a website's fine print terms of service agreement. Don't set up a Myspace page for your cat. Don't fudge your height on a dating site. Don't share your Facebook password with anybody: You could be committing a federal crime. (Read more here.)

It's the vagueness and over breadth of this law that allows prosecutors to go after people like Aaron Swartz, who tragically committed suicide earlier this year. The government threatened to jail him for decades for downloading academic articles from the website JSTOR.

Since Aaron's death, activists have cried out for reform of the CFAA. But members of the House Judiciary Committee are actually floating a proposal to expand and strengthen it -- that could come up for a vote as soon as April 10th! (Read more here.)

Thankfully, we've heard that the public outcry over the bad CFAA reform proposal probably (though not definitely) means that it won't be scheduled for a markup this week (as originally intended). However, that doesn't mean it's not still a major risk. There remains strong support from law enforcement folks and the Justice Department in particular for this kind of CFAA reform (the kind that makes it even broader). And, tragically, many in Congress just don't think that the public cares enough to support a bill in the other direction. Hopefully enough people speak up and let them know that this is unacceptable. A law that criminalizes breaking terms of service is not a law worth having on the books.
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Filed Under: aaron swartz, cfaa, fix the cfaa, hacking


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  1. icon
    JP Jones (profile), 9 Apr 2013 @ 12:03pm

    It still boggles my mind that Terms of Service could be considered legally binding. Since when does the purchase or use of something create an automatic, non-negotiable contract?

    It would be like buying a desk that's only allowed to be placed on east-facing walls...put it on a north facing wall and now you're facing criminal penalties! What? You didn't agree to these terms? They're listed in section 36 on the 10 page document in the desk drawer that you can't open until after you bring the desk home and build it (which, since it's been built, you can no longer return).

    Oh, you took a picture of your room with the desk in it, too? That's copyright infringement as well. You're in a heap of trouble! Prepare to spend at least $50,000 in legal fees...minimum, even if you somehow defend against your crime! Oh, and in the meantime your house will be confiscated indefinitely until the FBI can determine if you've possibly broken any more laws. If you're lucky you may even have it returned...most likely with all your furniture and belongings removed, you know, to avoid returning possibly illegal evidence back to you. No, you will not be compensated. You should never have been suspected of breaking the law...that's your fault!

    Yet this is pretty much the exact situation computer users risk every day under the CFAA/DMCA. Obviously we only disagree with it because we're criminals. Obviously.

    /sigh

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