April 17, 2009 | By Hugh D'Andrade

US Government Rules that Use of Proxies Need Not Merit Extra Jail Time

Last month, the US Sentencing Commission considered new sentencing guidelines that would classify the use of proxy servers as "sophisticated means" when used in the commission of a crime, thus requiring extra prison time. EFF spoke out against these guidelines, sending Staff Technologist Seth Schoen to appear before the Commission to argue (PDF) that the use of anonymizing technologies is a widespread practice that requires no special knowledge or skills.

Happily, it appears the Commission has decided, at least for now, not to classify the use of proxies as a sign of sophistication.

As Schoen told the Commission, "While proxies may be an advanced technology, using a proxy is often no more difficult than using Microsoft Word. Many kinds of people use proxies for all sorts of legitimate purposes, so only a court can reliably assess which uses are truly employed as a 'sophisticated means' of committing a crime and which are for privacy, free speech or some other innocent purpose."

EFF is not declaring victory on this issue just yet. We look forward to hearing the reasoning behind the Comission's ruling, and to seeing what revisions to the amendment they plan to propose. Today's ruling is undoubtedly a step forward, and we applaud the Commission for their decision.

This is just one area where we're watching closely to ensure that common Internet practices are not regarded as criminal by the government. EFF's work is ongoing in a case in which Boston College Campus Police cited a student's computer skills as evidence of wrongdoing.

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