San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of academics and public policy groups are urging a judge to dismiss computer crime charges in a case with dangerous ramifications for millions of people who use the Internet.
The defendant in the case, Lori Drew, is charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) by using a fictitious name and age on a MySpace account and using that account to make hurtful comments to a teenage girl. Tragically, the girl later took her own life. Federal prosecutors claim Drew broke federal law by violating MySpace's terms of service and that the MySpace communications were responsible for the girl's death. In an amicus brief filed Friday, EFF argues that criminal charges for a terms of service violation is a dramatic misapplication of the CFAA with far-ranging consequences for American computer users.
"This is a novel and unprecedented response to what everyone recognizes as a tragic situation," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "The CFAA is aimed at penalizing computer trespassers, but under the government's theory, the millions of people who disregard -- or don't read -- the terms of service on every website they visit could face computer crime charges. That's a big blank check to give federal prosecutors."
For example, this interpretation of the law would attach criminal penalties to anyone under the age of 18 who uses the Google search engine, because Google's terms of service specify all users must be of legal age to enter into a contract.
"Websites' terms of service are notoriously frivolous and overreaching, often hard to find, and routinely written in legalese bound to confuse a non-lawyer. Many courts have found them unenforceable in civil cases. They certainly should not be the basis for a criminal prosecution," said Granick
EFF's amicus brief was also signed by the Center for Democracy and Technology, Public Citizen, and 14 individual faculty members of law schools across the country.
For the full amicus brief:
Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation