Did Marco Rubio's Campaign Violate The CFAA? Will He Commit To Reforming It?

from the broken-law dept

We've talked a lot in the past few years about the desperate need to reform the CFAA -- an absolutely horrible "anti-hacking" law that has been stretched and broadened and twisted by people over the years, such that it's frequently used to "pile on" charges when nothing else will stick. If you want to go into a lot more detail, you can listen to the podcast we recently did about the CFAA, or listen to this wonderful podcast that Reply All did about the CFAA (where I also make a brief appearance). But one of the biggest problems with it is that it considers you to be a dangerous hacker if you access a computer/network "without authorization" or if you merely have "exceeded authorized access." It's that latter phrase that often causes trouble. What does it even mean? Historically, cases have been brought against employees who use their employer's computers for non-work related things, against someone for supposedly failing to abide by MySpace's terms of service and for downloading too many academic journals that were freely available for downloading on MIT's campus network.

Keep that in mind as you read this Associated Press story about how Presidential candidate and current Florida Senator Marco Rubio's "low-budget" Presidential campaign office got free internet access for a bit:
At one of the campaign's Nevada offices, staffers tried to do their part to live up to the less is more mantra. After noticing a pizza place next to a campaign office had free wireless internet that required a password, a staffer walked over and bought two pieces of pizza and asked for the internet access code.

But the cost-cutting measure was short-lived. After about three weeks, the pizza place caught on and asked the Rubio team to stop.
It's not at all difficult to see how that could be "exceeding authorized access" under the statute. After all, it's pretty clear that the intent of the access is for customers while they're in the restaurant. That seems to be confirmed by the fact that the pizza place asked the Rubio campaign to knock it off once it discovered what was going on. Now, for it to be a felony, there needs to be $5,000 worth of damage -- but considering that in another recent case, the DOJ turned a single news article defacement (that lasted just 40 minutes) into a supposed $929,977 in damages, I'm sure some creative math can make the use of the WiFi into something greater than $5,000. You just need to argue that the congestion on the WiFi likely turned off customers who may not ever come back, and the value of those losses exceeds $5,000.

Now, Rubio hasn't really been involved at all in the debate over the CFAA and reforming it. The only official "policy" line he has even closely related to it on his campaign issues page suggests he'd favor making the CFAA punishments even worse: "Use American power to respond harshly to international cyber attacks on American citizens, businesses, and governments." Of course, that's focused on foreign attacks, so may not apply directly.

Either way, this seems like something an enterprising political reporter might want to ask the Rubio campaign, seeing as they themselves may have potentially committed a felony under the current CFAA.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 10:01am

    ... After about three weeks, the pizza place caught on and asked the Rubio team to stop...

    Wonder if they had data caps, which is how they would've found this going on when they got surcharged.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 10:13am

    The biggest Abuse surrounding the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the enforcement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mat (profile), 16 Nov 2015 @ 10:15am

    They only noticed after three weeks?

    I would assume the data spike in week one would have tipped anyone looking at the stats off...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ben (profile), 16 Nov 2015 @ 10:26am

    Bistromathics strikes!

    Of course the FBI would be able to come up with losses totaling greater than $5,000. The offense was happening in a restaurant after all (albeit not at the end of the Universe (I hope!)).

    Bistro Mathematics comes into play, and almost any number, no matter how improbable, can be found.

    For example: just imagine the number of customers who will stay away from that pizza place because of its connection to the Rubio campaign? That should total a couple of million people (at $1 per person even!) right there, with the poll numbers as obvious evidence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bureau13 (profile), 16 Nov 2015 @ 10:55am

    I don't see this holding up

    They asked for the code, and were given it. Unless they were specifically instructed to only use it in the restaurant, which is doubtful, or if they continued to use it after being asked to stop, there is no case for claiming that they exceeded authorized access.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 11:01am

      Re: I don't see this holding up

      Really?
      I bet you are a lot of fun at parties. You probably pass around a hat asking for donations cause the keg is getting low followed by a quick get away. After all, you never actually said you intended to go get another keg did you?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      pixelpusher220 (profile), 16 Nov 2015 @ 6:49pm

      Re: I don't see this holding up

      You know the signs that say "wifi for customers"? you aren't a customer forever. My local McDs has it clearly posted you get 30 minutes of usage with a purchase.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 11:12am

    Rubio won't do the work to reform CFAA

    Rubio won't do the work to reform CFAA, in either direction, at least not as senator.

    His campaign pretty much admitted a month ago that Rubio isn't showing up for work as senator because he hates the job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      cypherspace (profile), 16 Nov 2015 @ 3:33pm

      Re: Rubio won't do the work to reform CFAA

      If anything I would expect him to make the CFAA worse. He's already proven himself a supporter of the national security state. So it's a good thing he's not running for re-election to the Senate next year.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    cot kangarooski, 16 Nov 2015 @ 11:53am

    Damages seem easy enough

    Without looking into the facts further, let's just assume for argument's sake that the wifi was used for exactly three weeks. Further, let's assume that the typical patron who orders two slices finshes and leaves after 15 minutes.

    3 weeks X 7 days in a week X 24 hours in a day X 4 quarter hours in an hour – 1 (because they paid for the first quarter hour) is 2015 quarter hours. If two slices is $2.49 or more, it's over $5,000 that they should've been paying to get pizza at a rate of one pizza an hour for three weeks with complementary wifi.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 12:49pm

    Of course not.

    Laws are for the little people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 4:19pm

      Re: Of course not.

      Exactly. The CFAA won't be enforced against the important people or big corps. That would just be crazy!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 16 Nov 2015 @ 3:37pm

    No crime here

    I doubt there will be any reporter asking the Rubio campaign these kinds of questions simply because no reporter wants to be thrown off the campaign for asking the "wrong" questions.

    And I doubt the pizza restaurant will push for charges since they're getting free publicity for giving the campaign free wi-fi... not to mention the customers they'll get when Rubio supporters come to visit.

    So, even though the law can be stretched to say there was a crime, it'll be hard to show anyone got hurt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bdj, 16 Nov 2015 @ 7:55pm

    How cheap...

    Seriously? They are filthy rich! Or perhaps they just didn't like the 2 year contract terms the only ISP in town had on offer... how's that free market choice working out for ya?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rubio's dirty deeds, 17 Nov 2015 @ 1:19am

    foundation money

    they could have sold their privileged situation to
    the wrong people: philantropists like Soros & Friends
    to do man in the middle attacks to spy and sabotage the presidential campaign or just to document Rubio's dirty deeds for future use...

    They could have their own swiss charitable pizza foundation to promote the well being of mankind through the education and research on pizza sciences

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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