If you are reading this article, odds are you’re already a felon. Bold statement, I know. The problem is that I’m probably right. If you weren’t a felon when you started reading this paragraph, you are now.
The state of computer and internet related laws in the United States of America is appalling. Most of the laws that get applied in criminal cases involving computers were written before the internet as we know it existed. This means that the laws themselves have no understanding of the internet written into them.
The worst is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA.) The CFAA was enacted in 1986 as an amendment to the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. The CFAA itself has been amended multiple times. None of the updates have done anything to address the problems of broad language and over-criminalization. In fact, amendments to the law actually broadened its scope and made it much worse. Currently Rep. Zoe Lofgren has introduced a bill, H.R. 2454 – Aaron’s Law Act of 2013, that will fix some problems with the CFAA. It doesn’t fix them all though. There is a lot more to be done if we want to stop the legal system from sending many of our brightest minds to prison, or worse.
Let’s return to the first paragraph’s point, that you have now committed a felony. “How?” you ask, “I’m just looking at an article that was published online, that anyone can see!” Here is where you learn just how bad the CFAA is and why it needs to be fixed now, not later. The law is so vague that prosecutors can and have interpreted it to mean that violating the Terms of Service of any website is a felony. The current Terms of Service for this website (0v.org) state very clearly that you may not read the article you are currently reading. While this is a rotten trick – and one that I’ve done to demonstrate a point – there are millions of websites you’ve visited over your lifetime whose Terms of Service you probably never even looked at. Many say it is illegal for minors under 18 to access a website, even if there is no sexual or adult content on the site, or forbid “hotlinking” of images, or copying their written content. How many times have you committed this particular felony without realizing it?
Has the severity of that revelation set in yet? Interpreting the law in this specific way, which our government has done before, makes us a nation of unconvicted felons. Nearly every one of your family members, friends and fellow citizens has committed this felony. Though most will never face prosecution, if you anger the wrong person in a position of power (like Andrew Auernheimer aka ‘weev’ did) you could find yourself on the business end of an indictment for the wrong reasons.
So here we are, a nation of people who have committed multiple felonies in their lifetimes. Most of you never knew you were doing it. Now what? The first thing that needs to be done is putting pressure on congress to actually take action on this and change the laws. The next thing is for each and every one of you to go and educate your friends and family so they can do the same.
Things To Do:
- The EFF has given us a way to contact our representatives in government and voice our concerns, you can do that by clicking here.
- Donate to the people who are currently being abused by laws like these: Andrew Auernheimber, Barrett Brown or Jeremy Hammond.
- Keep updated, thanks to @konklone we have a page that shows us the latest court documents relating to these laws here.
- Join up with groups like Fork The Law and help them make the changes happen.