Monday, May 26, 2008

MySpace federal prosecution in Missouri case may misuse federal law


The Washington Post this morning (May 26) is pointing out that the indictment of Lori Drew in the Megan Meier “teen impersonation” cyberbullying case by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles is based on a misapplication of a statute. The law is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, specifically USC 1030, “fraud and related activity in connection with computers,” link (at Cornell Law School) here.

The law, last updated in 2001 by the USA Patriot Act, was intended to prevent unauthorized access to classified information or personal information and to prevent hacking or infection of computers with malware. According to the Post, anyone who creates an “inaccurate” profile of the self on a social networking site, personal site or even Blogger is committing fraud and could be prosecuted. This would be a gross misrepresentation of the purpose of the law.

There have been other examples where laws have been challenged because of fears of gratuitous or "creative" prosecutions, such as the challenges to the CDA and to COPA, as well as the recent case of the "Protect" act last week.

The Editorial appears on p A16 and is called “Falsehoods on MySpace: Exaggerations, lies and harassment do not constitute computer fraud under federal law.” The online link is not yet available. Update (12:30 PM EDT). It is available now here.

Update: June 17, 2008


Ms. Drew plead not guilty in Los Angeles federal district court Monday and is free on $20000 bail. The AP story by AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch is here. Still, legal experts are calling this prosecution "creative use of the law" which was, as worded, intended to protect companies from fraud, not people from emotional harm.

Update: Aug 4

Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted a press release "MySpace Criminal Charges Risk Dangerous Ramifications for Consumers: Misuse of Computer Crime Law Could Turn Millions of Americans into Federal Criminals." It is dangerous to make a crime out of violating "terms of service" or "acceptable use policy," unless there is gross fraud. For example, in theory anyone under 18 us violating terms of service when using a search engine. The link is here.

The link for the amicus brief in United States District Court in CA is here.

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