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Crime United States

New CFAA Could Subject Teens To Jail For Reading Online News 230

Posted by timothy
from the literal-reading-for-literally-reading dept.
redletterdave writes "Anyone under 18 found reading the news online could hypothetically face jail time according to the latest draft of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which is said to be 'rushed' to Congress during its 'cyber week' in the middle of April. According to the new proposal floated by the House Judiciary Committee, the CFAA would be amended to treat any violation of a website's Terms of Service – or an employer's Terms of Use policy – as a criminal act. Applied to the world of online publications, this could be a dangerous notion: For example, many news websites' Terms of Use warn against any users under a certain age to use their site. In fact, NPR and the Hearst Corporation's entire family of publications, which includes Popular Mechanics, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle, all disallow readers under 18 from using their 'services.' According to the DOJ, this would mean anyone under 18 found accessing these sites — even just to read or comment on a story — could face criminal charges."
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New CFAA Could Subject Teens To Jail For Reading Online News

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  • by Jetra (2622687) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:35PM (#43359339)
    Want to keep the public in the dark and ill-informed? This is the perfect way!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:52PM (#43359635)

      Actually, the next step will be to make it a crime to use the internet to complain about the Gov on Gov sites as long as the Gov sites' ToS state it.

      "Thank you for visiting congress.gov. By visiting this site you agree to contribute the legal* maximum to each member of Congress ..."

      * by "legal" we mean as much as you have because no one even prosecutes us for breaking election laws (which we're going to get around to repealing anyway).

    • by cdrudge (68377)

      I'm unclear on how this law would directly infringe on a person's 1st Amendment rights.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jamstar7 (694492)
        Well, it's expanding copyright by default and allowing private corporations to infringe on a person's rights, and making the government enforce it at tax payer expense.

        Welcome to the USSA, where you get all the justice you can afford.
      • by retchdog (1319261)

        Prior restraint. If a website entirely forbids the posting of an entire class of image, let's say abstract art, then because this law establishes a criminal charge for doing so, it should be considered prior restraint in that case.

        Since this law does not rule out cases like the above (and it would be incredibly difficult or impossible to write it in such a way that it did), and there almost certainly are websites with such restrictions in their TOS, it thus violates the first amendment quite grievously. As

    • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:59PM (#43359747) Homepage Journal

      Everything that you do, every day is against the law. All the time.

      All it needs is a motivated prosecutor or enforcement agent, to activate your infraction.

      • Everything that you do, every day is against the law. All the time.
        All it needs is a motivated prosecutor or enforcement agent, to activate your infraction.

        Thanks Aaron. [wikipedia.org]

      • by pla (258480) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @04:12PM (#43362685) Journal
        Everything that you do, every day is against the law. All the time. All it needs is a motivated prosecutor or enforcement agent, to activate your infraction.

        Ah, but this law would count as quite the double-edged sword...

        Y'know the old cheesy warez-site belief that you can ban cops or require them to identify themselves as such when asked on a sign-up form? This gem of a turd would make those true.

        Beautiful. Truly beautiful.
      • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @04:13PM (#43362697) Homepage Journal

        >Everything that you do, every day is against the law. All the time.

        >All it needs is a motivated prosecutor or enforcement agent, to activate your infraction.

        Not everything, but yeah. A US Attorney can make your life a living nightmare if they get a bug up their ass about you. It's happening to a friend of mine. He owns land, and leases it out to farmers. Farmers grew pot on it without his knowledge. Now US Attorney Wagner is trying to take his land, and, you know, why not? All his other assets too. And all his family's assets. Just because he wants to make an example out of them.

        If you want a book that will simultaneously enlighten and enrage you, I highly recommend Harvey Silverglate's "Three Felonies a Day". In it, he talks about how DAs and other prosecutors will laugh and joke about all the different ways they can throw completely innocent people into prison, and runs through hundreds of case studies showing how they abuse their power in conjunction with ambiguous laws to throw people into jail who had no idea they were committing a crime, and even the prosecutors didn't try to argue had a mens rea.

        http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/1594035229 [amazon.com]

        What needs to be done:
        1) Decriminalize a lot of things. Aaron's Law (which is the polar opposite of the law in TFA) would be a good step in this direction - make violations of EULAs civil, not criminal, cases. And do this for a whole set of things. (In the book, one artist was thrown in jail because his scientist friend bought some stuff for him - got sent to jail because arguably the wrong name was on the application).
        2) Require a mens rea ("guilty mind") to go to jail for most things. Right now, many statues operate on strict liability that really should require intent to commit a crime instead.
        3) Eliminate or clarify ambiguous laws. While it sounds nice to be able to make something nice and vague, in reality it means that US Attorneys can warp or twist the wording to bring a life-ending case against a person or business they don't like.
        4) Eliminate prosecutoral bribery. A defense attorney would get disbarred if he offered a witness a million bucks to tell a certain story in court, but prosecutors can and do do this all the time. They approach some underling in a business, arrest them, threaten them with a life in prison for having the gall to work for Enron as a middle manager... but then offer to let them off if they only tell a certain story in court against the Big Fish they're trying to land. It shouldn't be constitutional, but SCOTUS ruled it is, because it would otherwise destroy the "justice" system as it stands right now.

      • I think Ayn Rand got it right: There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted and you create a nation
    • by waterbear (190559) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @01:35PM (#43360295)

      A significant principle of the 'rule of law' and 'freedom under the law' for a long time has been that there should be no penalty without a law that imposes it. The principle is so old it was there in Latin too, "nulla poena sine lege", and some (including me) regard it as one of the important foundation-stones of a free society.

      What the maxim didn't spell out (maybe because it was thought obvious, or should be) is that the law needs to be one that makes it clear and specific enough so that people know in advance what the penalty-earning conduct is going to be.

      The ingenuity of some modern legislators subverts this principle while pretending to respect it. They design and pass blanket laws -- such as, arguably, the CFAA -- which are so broad, that they generically criminalize harmful and harmless conduct alike (or, harmful conduct along with other conduct that ought to be considered harmless except it goes against the interests of the legislators' friends). It seems to be assumed (occasionally said right out) that the harmless acts swept up into the breadth of the law will be treated as 'de minimis'. Then it is left to the discretion of prosecutors to pick the cases 'really' deserving of punishment.

      Of course one big question about these blanket laws is whether prosecutors should be trusted with that kind of power (I'd answer 'no', and point to the recent Aaron Swartz case).

      But an even bigger issue is that the result of subverting the principle of 'nulla poena sine lege' in this way is, that no-one really knows any more what conduct is going to be forbidden in practice. A whole lot of folk get theoretically criminalised for the harmless actions swept up into the over-broad laws, and can only rely on the legal system ignoring the 'de minimis' actions. This is obnoxious for so many reasons, including that harmless acts ought not to be criminalized even theoretically. But it is worse when the blanket law becomes used as justification or pretext for punishment when a prosecutor wants to really get nasty with somebody for some quite ulterior reason not made publicly known. Then the real motivation for punishment can become deceitfully concealed under a veneer of sanctimony '. . .but he broke the law'.

      I can hardly think of any subversion of the legal system more poisonous to freedom and the rule of law than this.

      -wb-

    • by Gilmoure (18428)

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      Obviously, 'the people', in keeping with 'the people' in the second ammendment, refers to gov't organized and sancioned groups and 'the press' refers to established and licensed newspapers and news reporting organizations. Of course, the ri

    • Well, it doesn't sound like you've looked at TFA too closely. It just points out that some news sites happen to have provisions in their TOSs that (purport to) restrict access to people over a certain age. The new draft CFAA would apparently make it a crime to violate those terms.

      This is a stupid, unjust law, but I think it's probably not the product of a dastardly conspiracy to keep the public away from the news.

      • by Frobnicator (565869) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @02:54PM (#43361469) Journal
        It goes much farther than that. It makes conspiracy to violate and attempts to violate punishable as though they had completed the crime.

        Simply talking about breaking the terms of service caries the same felony punishment.

        • What part of the law are you looking at?

          Conspiracy is not "just talking about." You have to make an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. It's a tricky area of law (and one I don't much care for) and some statements, under some circumstances, might constitute overt acts, but it's safe to say that "just talking about breaking the terms of service" isn't enough, without more. And in this respect CFAA is really no different from any other law. Of course, if the law is bad, conspiracy liability for breaki

          • by Frobnicator (565869) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @03:39PM (#43362163) Journal

            Okay, let's try this variation:

            Me:Honey, I'm thinking I'd like to sign our daughter up for a Facebook account, even though she is twelve.
            Wife: That's probably okay. All her friends are already on it, and she is very responsible.

            Suddenly...

            BOOM! Conspiracy to commit computer fraud. Which carries the same penalty of actually committing computer fraud. Which includes potential jail time for both parents.

            • Yeah, could be. Although I think the main thing to be outraged about is that there could be direct liability for this kind of behavior. Conspiracy liability just adds to the crazy.

            • by cob666 (656740)
              This fits in nicely with yesterday's story about employers asking for employees Facebook credentials. Now, if you fork over your password you can go to jail. I'm constantly amazed by how idiotic many of these new laws are, violating a terms of service agreement should not be a criminal offense, mind boggling!
      • by sjames (1099)

        So does that make schools guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor is they suggest keeping up with current events?

    • That was what second amendment is for.

    • and other legal types like justices, sworn officers, etc.

      as soon as the jails fill up with them, and you find out everybody else in the courtroom is guilty under examination, this gets fixed quickly.

  • Because they have handle the power so well so far...

  • Only in America (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AoOs (1336153)

    *facepalm*

    • Only in the House of Representatives... These folks are well known for creating the most poorly conceived and ill considered legislation. The HR represents newbs and the worst of the worst when it comes to radical ideologs. The sad reality is that the voters rarely give scrutiny to the ones they vote in. If your name is more widely recognized than your opponent and/or you happen to be affiliated with the popular party you're almost assured to get in. Senators tend to be more moderate and have a bit mor
    • Yeah, nothing stupid ever happens in Europe [bbc.co.uk].
    • by Ryanrule (1657199)

      Psh, we wave our dick and canada/europe/australia will copy paste the same law in a minute.

    • by Alioth (221270)

      Well, not really. Think of the British Terrorism Act. One thing this outlaws is being in posession of information that may be of use to a terrorist. A recipe for bread could be information that is of use to a terrorist (they have to eat, after all).

  • by spongebue (925835) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:40PM (#43359435) Homepage
    I think that even more importantly, this effectively gives website owners the power to write laws on their own. Want to include a stipulation in your terms of use that forbids shopping at the competition after merely setting foot in your website? Sure, why not? And if you have the de facto enforcement of criminal law on your side, even better
  • This reminds me... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iYk6 (1425255) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:47PM (#43359553)

    This reminds me of a female blogger several years ago after that tennager suicide case. She reported that she heard match.com didn't allow married people to use their site. She said that couldn't risk confirming this herself, since she was happily married.

    The point is, how are you supposed to know if you are allowed to use a site, if you can't even read the terms of service without risking violating the terms of service?

    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday April 04, 2013 @02:42PM (#43361275) Homepage Journal

      The point is, how are you supposed to know if you are allowed to use a site, if you can't even read the terms of service without risking violating the terms of service?

      "You've got to accept the Terms of Service, so you can find out what's in it." - Nancy Pelosi

      • by Wookact (2804191)
        I would certainly like a source for that direct quote.
        • The actual quote was in the context of Obamacare. I believe the point was that this legislation makes the same logic error with respect to Terms of Service. Pelosi's actual words were “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”
  • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:48PM (#43359573) Homepage

    the CFAA would be amended to treat any violation of a website's Terms of Service â" or an employer's Terms of Use policy â" as a criminal act

    That's a really stupid f-ing idea.

    Website change their terms of service all the time, and at their whim. They assert copyright ownership of stuff their users create. They do whatever they want basically, and to their own benefit.

    So if I create a Facebook account without real information I've committed a crime now?

    Anyone voting for this is too damned stupid to be passing laws about technology. We've been giving too much power in terms of EULAs and 'licenses' where companies make up their own terms which would be otherwise illegal -- applying the force of law behind this shit would be bad for all of us.

    Morons.

    • So if I create a Facebook account without real information I've committed a crime now?

      Yep.

      On the other hand, this mixes in a pleasingly perverse way with that law to make it so that you have to give you rfacebook password to an employer discussed earlier, since they are comitting a federal crime if they USE that password.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        since they are comitting a federal crime if they USE that password

        Doubtful. Employers and people looking after copyrights will be given exemptions to use 'extra legal' methods in order to pursue their requirements.

        Thee and me get screwed, but companies and other donors will be exempt. Politicians, as always, will be exempt.

        Just like how Sony never got prosecuted for installing root kits or the *AAs can use shady techniques to investigate -- because they were protecting copyright, so all of those pesky law

    • by Hatta (162192)

      That's a really stupid f-ing idea.

      Website change their terms of service all the time, and at their whim. They assert copyright ownership of stuff their users create. They do whatever they want basically, and to their own benefit.

      You think they don't know this? Believe it or not, politicians are not stupid. They know exactly what they are doing. They are not writing this law so it can be applied to every violation of every TOS. They are only going to prosecute violations of the TOS of powerful corporation

  • Ban Politicians (Score:4, Interesting)

    by james_van (2241758) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:49PM (#43359585)
    Start updating TOS to state that anyone who is in public office is banned from visiting or viewing a site. Then start sending the bastards to jail for violating... ok well, none of them would actually go to jail, but it may cause enough stir to get this whole stupid idea tossed out.
  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:53PM (#43359649) Homepage Journal

    These constant actions by Congress to make ToS Violations Criminal Offenses sheds light on the true goal of major corporations to essentially take direct control of the population and do and end run around the American Legal System.

    I am a professional contractor -- when a jackass client tries to weasel out paying because they got the specs wrong (which can happen when I subcontract for a shady jackass), and want me to pay for their fuckups, can I have them thrown in Jail for Breach of Contract? HELL NO.

    But it seems that if you violate a ToS - which is nothing more than an agreement of conduct vis a vis a Contract -- it seems Congress thinks Corporate America should be able to have you thrown in jail for not playing by whatever arbitrary rules they concoct. And more startling these criminal sanctions will be FEDERAL OFFENSES, trumping State Rights. Essentially making the DoJ the strong arm of the Fortune 500.

    Frankly, I find this startling and to be unashamedly over-dramatic -- a testimony of the true intent of the US Congress and their Masters to enslave the unwashed masses of the US into a captive audience for the American Citizens -- the Corporations and the .5% subject to criminal persecution and Federal Mandates to buy products (insurance and whatever else they decide to create "free markets" for of US Corporate Cartels)

    At this point it doesn't matter if this Bill passes or not -- a very clear message has been sent: COMMON PEOPLE ARE NOT WHO CONGRESS SERVES AND CONGRESS IS WORKING AS HARD AS IT CAN TO ELIMINATE COMMONERS RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS AND SUBJECT THEM TO THE WILL OF THEIR CORPORATE MASTERS.

  • I'm going to be changing my TOS on my website if this passes. I think something along the lines of "if you view my website, you must give me all of the money in your bank account". I will then be forwarding it in a massive email campaign to everyone with an inkling of political influence.
  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:57PM (#43359729)

    The article is sensationalistic click bait.

    I don't see any such language in the document that was linked within the article. All I see are laws against trafficking in passwords, unauthorized access to a computer system to obtain financial information, non-public information from any government agency, or damage critical infrastructure computers.

    • I read the document as well and find no language suggesting anything about TOS violations. In addition, even the summary article [ibtimes.com] was misquoted. It said "if you violate the terms of service on a government website." But I couldn't even find that in the actual draft [amazonaws.com].
    • by admdrew (782761)
      I THINK they're referring to the section entitled "EXCEEDS AUTHORIZED ACCESS," but I'm too lazy to get the original document and put them together.
      • by admdrew (782761)
        Er, sorry, you basically said the same thing in your post. So I think specifically under that 'exceeds authorized access' is item iii, "information from any protected computer." But like you, I don't really understand how they make the leap to TOSes.
        • by jedidiah (1196)

          A TOS governs authorized access to computers. You could argue that the TOS by itself is a form of protection. It's a weak form of protection like CSS.

          If you are reading the law like a programmer, then you're reading it wrong because it will get bent out of shape by lawyers. The worst possible interpretations will be acted upon.

          It's like you missed that whole Aaron Swartz case...

          • by admdrew (782761)
            I think you and I actually agree, maybe I could've said it a little differently. I'm with you on this potentially being badly interpreted (so I also see how they could "make the leap to TOSes"), but I guess I don't fully get the willful ignorance behind those interpretations. Really no different than most politics, though.
        • TOS usually describes what is authorized access and what is not.

          So well its kinda are there.

    • by H0p313ss (811249)

      The article is sensationalistic click bait.

      On the internet? I'm shocked, SHOCKED!

    • by alexo (9335)

      Quoted from the document:

      (4) EXCEEDS AUTHORIZED ACCESS .—In sub-section (a), by striking paragraph (2) and inserting the following:
      ‘‘(2) intentionally—
      ‘‘(A) accesses a computer without authorization, and thereby obtains—
      ‘‘(i) information contained in a financial record of a financial institution, or of a card issuer as defined in section 1602(n) of title 15, or contained in a file of a consumer reporting agency on a consumer, as such terms are defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.);
      ‘‘(ii) information from any department or agency of the United States; or
      ‘‘(iii) information from any protected computer; or
      ‘‘(B) exceeds authorized access, and—
      ‘‘(i) thereby obtains from a computer information defined in paragraph (A)(i) through (iii); and
      ‘‘(ii) the offense—
      ‘‘(I) involves information that exceeds $5,000 in value;
      ‘‘(II) was committed for purposes of obtaining sensitive or non-public information of an entity or another individual (including such information in the possession of a third party), including medical records, wills, diaries, private correspondence, financial records, photographs of a sensitive or private nature, trade secrets, or sensitive or non-public commercial business information;
      ‘‘(III) was committed in furtherance of any criminal act in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or of any State, unless such state violation would be based solely on the obtaining of information without authorization or in excess of authorization; or
      ‘‘(IV) involves information obtained from a computer used by or for a government entity; or’’.

      The next section, dealing with forfeiture, is even more fun to read...

      Anyway, I suggest everyone with a web site sets up a honeypot, as follows:
      - Require an account to log in ("protected computer").
      - On registration, displays a long and convoluted (but not whimsical) TOS, preferably copied verbatim from some big site, in a small, non-resizeable box, in all caps, and requires to hit an "I agree" button.
      - Somewhere in that TOS, insert a statement like "ENTERING OR ATTEMPTING TO ENTER

  • I'm starting to wonder what is motivating the law makers when they repeatedly come back with a worse proposal than what was just rejected. The whole notion of 'severe penalties reduce crime.' has been shown by history to be completely untrue. Severe penalties results in full prisons and just as much crime. Better economic opportunities for the poor reduces crime. Full employment reduces crime. Providing people with the basic necessities of life when they cannot provide for themselves, reduces crime. In sh
    • I'm starting to wonder what is motivating the law makers when they repeatedly come back with a worse proposal than what was just rejected.

      Start with the fact that they are politicians first and lawmakers second. Add to that the fact that there are some who are not particularly bright.

  • Maybe I should create a website that has the following terms of service: "Any legislators who voted for this stupid law are forbidden from accessing this web site. If you voted for this law, you are now in violation of it and are now a criminal who belongs in jail", and then send them all links to the site to all of congress.

    Our politicians are usually too stupid to realize the effects of their shitty decisions until they are subject to them.

    Obviously no legislators will actually be going to jail for this

    • Maybe I should create a website that has the following terms of service: "Any legislators who voted for this stupid law are forbidden from accessing this web site. If you voted for this law, you are now in violation of it and are now a criminal who belongs in jail", and then send them all links to the site to all of congress.

      Sounds like you'd be charged with entrapment, enticement or some other such thing (law enforcement) people use to get what they want at your expense... Let me know where you're imprisoned and I'll mail you some soap-on-a-rope.

  • The CFAA would be amended to treat any violation of a website's Terms of Service – or an employer's Terms of Use policy – as a criminal act...

    ... According to the DOJ, this would mean anyone under 18 found accessing these sites — even just to read or comment on a story — could face criminal charges.

    IANAL, but why would violating a private - basically contract - agreement be a criminal act rather than civil? Do we really need and/or want the criminal courts enforcing things like this. Also, what damages would be incurred by the sites? Surely there must be people in Congress that understand this.

  • would welcome complete internet prohibition for minors if it enabled an uncensored, politically incorrect, non-think-of-the-snowflakes mindset.

  • I violate my corporate IT policy on a daily basis, just to get my job done. At the moment, I get away with this because i) the IT department aren't sharp enough to detect it and ii) the people who know I do it, know that if I didn't do it, half the stuff I get done would not get done.

    If a law were passed in my jurisdiction making this a criminal act rather than a harmless yet productive eccentricity, I'd have to quit and become my own employer.

  • STUPID. Kids can't read the news.
    Moronic.
    First of all why would such sites as Popular Mechanics, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle disallow kids of 18 yrs or younger.
    Innapropriate Ads? Content?
    Sheesh
    Now, if this proposal becomes law somehow, we will have to deal with a new can of worm such as, for example;
    a kid makes his school project (report, research, etc.) based on news and he used from one or more of these sites which are allegedly for 18 yrs or older, then, a possible lawsui
    • by Belial6 (794905)
      The reason that websites like Popular Mechanics do this is so that they don't have to argue about whether any of their content is appropriate for children. They surely don't look to put child unfriendly content in their magazine, but if they have an article with the acronym WTF, they don't want an angry horde of parents harassing them. If a parent complains, they just point to the ToS and tell the parent that their child was violating them.

      They are fully aware that sane parents are just ignoring that p
  • If you make it a criminal act to violate a websites terms of service, you delegate law making to websites. They'll be determining what's OK on their site and baiting people. You know, because if they don't want people to do something on their site, they should not make it possible to do that.
  • This BS and the non stop lies and propaganda of the "news" industry!

  • " to treat any violation of a website's Terms of Service â" or an employer's Terms of Use policy â" as a criminal act."

    Actually the article says "if you violate the terms of service on a government website ", so it wouldn't apply to your neighbor&dog's websites or Facebook. Otherwise, since in the US most ToSs can be changed as the weather changes, overnight and every minute, every website operator could turn their users into criminals as they wish. Which would be a tad ridiculous.

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