Computer Fraud And Abuse Act Reform

After the tragic death of programmer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, EFF calls to reform the infamously problematic Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). In June 2013, Aaron's Law, a bipartisan bill to make common sense changes to the CFAA was introduced by Reps. Lofgren and Sensenbrenner. You can help right now by emailing your Senator and Representative to reform the draconian computer crime law.

The CFAA is the federal anti-hacking law. Among other things, this law makes it illegal to intentionally access a computer without authorization or in excess of authorization; however, the law does not explain what "without authorization" actually means. The statute does attempt to define "exceeds authorized access," but the meaning of that phrase has been subject to considerable dispute. While the CFAA is primarily a criminal law intended to reduce the instances of malicious hacking, a 1994 amendment to the bill allows for civil actions to be brought under the staute.

Creative prosecutors have taken advantage of this confusion to bring criminal charges that aren't really about hacking a computer, but instead target other behavior prosecutors dislike. For example, in cases like United States v. Drew and United States v. Nosal the government claimed that violating a private agreement or corporate policy amounts to a CFAA violation. This shouldn't be the case. Compounding this problem is the CFAA's disproportionately harsh penalty scheme. Even first-time offenses for accessing a protected computer without sufficient "authorization" can be punishable by up to five years in prison each (ten years for repeat offenses), plus fines. Violations of other parts of the CFAA are punishable by up to ten years, 20 years, and even life in prison. The excessive penalties were a key factor in the government's case against Aaron Swartz, where eleven out of thirteen alleged crimes were CFAA offenses, some of which were "unauthorized" access claims.

EFF is championing reforms to the CFAA. These suggestions expand on Zoe Lofgren's terrific draft bill known as Aaron's Law. We will expand on this and address other flaws of the CFAA, as well.

Our proposals

Specific Reasons to Improve the CFAA

Initial Suggestions for improving Aaron's Law

Additional Suggestions for improving the Penalty Scheme



Stay in Touch

NSA Spying

EFF is leading the fight against the NSA's illegal mass surveillance program. Learn more about what the program is, how it works, and what you can do.

Follow EFF

BREAKING: @SenateMajLdr says the next vote in the Senate will be on NSA bills at 1 am EDT. Follow @efflive for updates on the debate then.

May 22 @ 6:27pm

Breaking: The Senate has just passed its TPP Fast Track bill. The fight now moves to the House. Speak out: https://eff.org/r.ftpp

May 22 @ 6:08pm

Report on FBI’s use of the Patriot Act shows years of foot-dragging and failed oversight https://eff.org/r.9put

May 22 @ 5:44pm
JavaScript license information