June 23, 2016 | By Adam Schwartz

Computer Crime Bill Stalls in Rhode Island

Rhode Island legislators recently decided not to advance a bill that would have made that state’s bad “anti-hacking” law even worse. This is good news. But the struggle continues against other vague and overbroad computer crime laws.

As EFF previously explained, this Rhode Island bill was a threat to many different kinds of innocent, common, and beneficial uses of computers. It would have further empowered prosecutors to bring charges against computer users who violate a corporate terms-of-service agreement to access confidential information, as well as whistle blowers and independent computer security researchers. It would have imposed a minimum of five years of incarceration for a first offense, even where there was no intent to obtain financial gain. It allowed for the stacking of charges, enabling prosecutors to seek even lengthier prison terms. And there was no showing that existing laws are insufficient to protect confidential computer data.

That’s why we sent legislators two letters opposing this bill (here and here), along with our allies Access Now, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the Defending Dissent Foundation, and the Open Technology Institute. The ACLU of Rhode Island also advocated against this bill.

EFF fights against bills like this across the country. For example, earlier this month we joined a coalition effort to defeat a bill that would expand the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).  We also try to persuade judges to narrowly interpret existing computer crime laws, as we did last month in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Chelsea Manning.

Perhaps most importantly, EFF works to roll back the many overbroad computer crime laws already on the books. For example, we support Aaron’s law, named for Internet hero Aaron Swartz, which would begin to fix the federal CFAA.

Much work remains. The Rhode Island bill may be back next year. But for today, we celebrate the successful effort of EFF and its allies to block the Rhode Island bill

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