On Prosecutors, Power and Vague Law
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was written in response to 1983’s War Games, according to EFF attorney Marcia Hofmann. Not only is it stone age in origin, much of its sweeping power rests in one ill-defined phrase — unauthorized access — and one contract clause — terms of service.
Yes, this is a law that is both civil and criminal in nature.
Those nuggets came from a roundtable discussion of cybercrime and the Aaron Swartz case hosted by the University of Washington on Monday night (recorded livestream). They punctuate a poignant and chilling first-person account of being caught in the vortex that is a federal investigation: Quinn Norton’s essay in Sunday’s Atlantic.
Pay attention to this law, which has been amended numerous times by technically illiterate Congressmen under the sway of powerful corporate interests. It is possible — not probable but possible — that more sane minds might prevail in this Congressional session, bringing needed reform to a legal system out of touch with social norms. (It is less likely, but possible, that the DOJ and White House could succeed in making the law even more draconian than it is today, as they have tried to do in the past.)
Here is Harvard professor Larry Lessig speaking to Aaron’s case and much needed legal reform: