Are You A Teenager Who Reads News Online? According to the US Justice Department, You May Be a Criminal
Disturbingly, the Departments of Justice (DOJ) of both the Bush and Obama administrations have embraced an expansive interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) that would literally make it a crime for many kids to read the news online. And
it's the main reason why the law must be reformed.
crime to access a website for any impermissible purpose. For a number of reasons, including the requirements of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, many news sites have terms of service that prohibit minors from using their interactive
services and sometimes even visiting their websites.
YOU MAY NOT ACCESS OR USE THE COVERED SITES OR ACCEPT THE AGREEMENT IF YOU ARE NOT AT LEAST 18 YEARS OLD.
In the DOJ's world, this means anyone under 18 who reads a Hearst newspaper online could hypothetically face jail time. But Hearst's publications aren't the only ones with overly restrictive usage terms. U-T San Diego and the Miami Herald have similar
policies. Even NPR is guilty, saying teenagers can't access their services (including the site, NPR podcasts and the media player) without a permission slip.
We'd like to say that we're being facetious, but, unfortunately, the Justice Department has already demonstrated its willingness to pursue CFAA to absurd extremes. Luckily, the Ninth Circuit rejected the government's arguments, concluding that, under
such an ruling, millions of unsuspecting citizens would suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of the law. As Judge Alex Kozinski so aptly wrote:
Under the government's proposed interpretation of the CFAA...describing yourself as 'tall, dark and handsome,' when you're actually short and homely, will earn you a handsome orange jumpsuit.
And it's no excuse to say that the vast majority of these cases will never be prosecuted. As the Ninth Circuit explained, Ubiquitous, seldom-prosecuted crimes invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Instead of pursuing only suspects of
actual crimes, it opens the door for prosecutors to go after people because the government doesn't like them.
Are you a minor with a thirst for information? You, and your parents who vote, should together tell Congress to fix CFAA.
Update: Demand Justice for Aaron Swartz
6th April 2013. See
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
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
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
Update: Major Victory In Stopping Bad CFAA Bill, But Good Reforms Still Needed
13th April 2013. See
We have great news on the last day of our week-of-action aimed at Congress over the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the draconian computer hacking law.
Huffington Post is reporting that House Republicans put the brakes on an awful expansion to the CFAA that threatened Internet rights.
Even better, Huffington Post is crediting pressure from Internet activists for this major victory:
A House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the law, chaired by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), had planned to vote on a reform of the bill next week as part of a House Republican legislative flurry they dubbed Cyber Week, according to both
Republican and Democratic aides on the panel. However, the bill was pulled back because of pressure from the Internet community.
All week, EFF and a host of other groups have been engaged in a week-of-action aimed at stopping this bill in its tracks. We started the week with a letter signed by EFF and organizations from across the political spectrum, but it's you, the Internet
users, who have emailed, tweeted, and called Congress to make sure your voices have been heard. As Huffington Post reported:
The move to pull back plans to change CFAA is another indication of the growing strength of the cyber community, which first flexed its muscles in a public way to block SOPA, a bill that would have handed much more control of the Internet to government
and its corporate allies.
It's important to remember, this fight is far from over. Even though the CFAA expansion has been tabled and there's reportedly no timeline for bringing it back, legislators could revive it at any moment. The Justice Department has been lobbying
for these expansions for years, and there's no indication it will stop.