Friday, September 30, 2011

Go to Jail for Internet Lies?

From WSJ

Is it illegal to lie on your Facebook profile or to use your company computer to goof off? And if so, could you go to jail for it?

Those activities may be illegal under broad interpretations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, an anti-hacking law passed in 1986 and later expanded, asserts George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. And those crimes could become felonies carrying a three-year jail term if Congress agrees with a proposal by the Obama administration, Kerr writes.

Currently, the law makes it a misdemeanor when a person “exceeds authorized access" to any computer, Kerr says. Courts are still defining that language, but the Justice Department contends it should apply even when “terms of use” are violated or workplace policies are disregarded.

As an example, Kerr cites a 2009 case in which the Justice Department prosecuted a woman under the law for setting up a profile with MySpace using a fake picture. Kerr may have been referring to the prosecution of Lori Drew, the Missouri mom accused of helping to drive a neighboring teen to suicide by posing as a teenage boy who wooed then rejected the girl. A federal judge overturned the conviction.

Kerr says the law doesn’t even require the unauthorized computer use to involve the Internet. “Since 2008, it applies to pretty much everything with a microchip,” he writes of the law. “So if you're visiting a friend and you use his coffeemaker without permission, watch out: You may have committed a federal crime.”

Kerr believes the law should be narrowed before its penalties are expanded. “There's no reason to make breaching a promise a federal case, and certainly not a felony crime,” he writes.

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