In the wake of Aaron Swartz’ passing over the weekend, many people questioned why such a brilliant young man would take his own life. His family and many others said his death was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.” Now people are calling for reforms to the law that allowed the justice system to come out so strongly against him, and one lawmaker is answering that call.
TechDirt reports that Rep. Zoe Lofgren is proposing an amendment to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act called Aaron’s Law. She explained what the amendment would do in a thread announcing the legislation on Reddit:
As we mourn Aaron Swartz’s tragic death, many of us are deeply troubled as we learn more about the government’s actions against him. His family’s statement about this speaks volumes about the inappropriate efforts undertaken by the U.S. government. There’s no way to reverse the tragedy of Aaron’s death, but we can work to prevent a repeat of the abuses of power he experienced.
We should prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users. The government was able to bring such disproportionate charges against Aaron because of the broad scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the wire fraud statute. It looks like the government used the vague wording of those laws to claim that violating an online service’s user agreement or terms of service is a violation of the CFAA and the wire fraud statute.
Using the law in this way could criminalize many everyday activities and allow for outlandishly severe penalties.
When our laws need to be modified, Congress has a responsibility to act. A simple way to correct this dangerous legal interpretation is to change the CFAA and the wire fraud statutes to exclude terms of service violations. I will introduce a bill that does exactly that. In addition to the posted link, a draft copy of the bill is available here. In coming days, I will seek cosponsors for the bill from both political parties.
As you know from prior posts, I am drafting broader measures to improve copyright law that are separate from this effort. But this bill to amend CFAA and wire fraud statutes, which I would like to call “Aaron’s Law,” should be enacted separately and swiftly. It could be an important tribute to him.
But that is likely to happen only with your help and your support.
In short, the amendment would decriminalize Terms of Service violations. It was the one crime that Swartz was “guilty” of, and others have been trapped for under the CFAA for similar acts. Unfortunately, violation of ToS under CFAA carries a stiffer penalty than many violent crimes as pointed out by activists as part of Anonymous’ #OpAngel campaign that seeks to reform the law as well.
How good of a chance would Aaron’s Law have if it’s introduced in the House? It’s hard to say. Lofgren’s bills that address technology and Internet related matters don’t exactly have a stunning track record. The 113th Congress has some new members, however, and these new members may be more open to passing reform to bills created in the 80s that no longer apply to modern day scenarios.[Image: ragesoss/flickr]