Bad Facts Make Bad Law

A Los Angeles jury convicted Lori Drew of three misdemeanors for her role in the events leading up to the death of Megan Meier. .  It did not convict her of accessing a computer without authorization to inflict emotional distress, a felony, or of conspiracy. Drew could receive up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine on each conviction of accessing a computer with authorization.  The prosecution’s theory was that Drew, along with her 13-year old daughter and another young woman, violated the MySpace Terms of Service by creating a false identity, Josh Evans, to harass Meier, and that creating the fraudulent identity breached the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  It’s a novel and troubling theory because the CFAA is typically used to prosecute those who hack security to gain access to a computer.  Conflating use of a false identity or other violation of a web site’s terms of service with criminal conduct under the CFAA creates a powerful tool to use against behavior that most Internet users would not consider criminal.

Lori Drew is guilty of many things–being a helicopter parent, having the emotional maturity of a thirteen year-old, callous cruelty–but I don’t agree with these convictions.  If violating terms of use is to be a criminal act, Congress should say so.

4 thoughts on “Bad Facts Make Bad Law”

  1. Goodness… I have a false account for various subscription services to avoid dealing with spam while receiving benefits… (Ever need to fill out an e-mail address when you get a Rewards Card?)

    Would I be in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act under the same logic??

    I think it’s sad that we believe that we’re completely safe and sound when we make remarks on the internet, whether it be a blog, forum, chat program, or some web page. Everything can be tracked, everything is being archived, and the whole notion of internet privacy has been thrown out ever since the Patriot Act…

    As an aside…the only thing I know of that can’t be tracked or archived is VoIP… thank goodness some privacy still exists in this age.

  2. If violating the ToS of websites was crime, I wouldn’t know what I would do. I often lie about my age among other things to protect my identity. An interesting case indeed… And what’s even more odd is that I clearly remember a very similar situation being played out on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Weird.

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