Justice Department May Reform Law Used to Prosecute Aaron Swartz

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) says it is considering

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which has a
controversial reputation for doling out disproportionately harsh
sentences for electronic misdemeanors. Wired
the unjust cyber-crackdown, nourished by the CFAA, “our
new war on drugs.”

Aaron Swartz is a well-known victim of the stringent laws. The
26-year-old computer wizard made contributions to RSS and Reddit,
and organized resistance to SOPA. He
engaged in the electronic equivalent to trespass when he downloaded
material in bulk off of the JSTOR. This deed was a violation of the
digital library’s terms-of-service, but prosecutors treated as a
severe criminal act. He hanged himself while facing up to $1
million in fines and 35 years in prison.

As a result of the CFAA, many more Americans have received
draconian punishments, disproportionate to the relatively minor
crimes they committed. 

The law, enacted in 1986, appears to be fueled by a fear of the
digital age. Hanni Fakhoury, staff attorney at the Electronic
Frontier Foundation,
in Wired:

The government’s mindset is that technology and the
internet can wreak havoc. Disseminating the login credentials of a
powerful media company to vandalize a few websites, for example,
has the potential to cause more damage than spray-painting graffiti
on a highway sign.

Confronted with mounting pressure from civil rights groups, the
DOJ claims it intends to reform. The Washington


In congressional testimony this week, the agency said it would
support modifying the CFAA in ways that would make it harder for
the government to prosecute Americans who commit relatively minor
infractions online.

The U.S. government still doesn’t quite know how to respond to
crimes committed electronically. Reform is necessary to curb
the unjust sentences dangled in front of at Americans like Swartz.
The Justice Department’s apparent willingness to reform could be a
step in the right direction.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/1fUHT4F

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