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United States The Courts Your Rights Online

Aaron's Law Would Revamp Computer Fraud Penalties 163

Posted by timothy
from the malice-would-be-a-good-place-to-start dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Two U.S. lawmakers have introduced a bill that would prevent the Department of Justice from prosecuting people for violating terms of service for Web-based products, website notices or employment agreements under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). On Thursday, Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, and Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, introduced Aaron's Law, a bill aimed at removing some types of prosecutions under the CFAA." The bill is of course named for Aaron Swartz.
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Aaron's Law Would Revamp Computer Fraud Penalties

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  • Not good enough. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @05:29PM (#44065507) Journal

    A better reform to honor Aaron Swartz would be the abolition of plea bargaining. Nobody should be coereced out of their right to a trial by an overzealous prosecutor with trumped up charges. Every prisoner, every single one, deserves a trial.

    • by ub3r n3u7r4l1st (1388939) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @05:32PM (#44065527)

      You have DMCA, mail fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud etc. that covers almost all sorts of illegal activities regarding computers. And of course, prosecutors always have the ultimate ace in the hole called "criminal conspiracy" if all other charge fails.

      No need for the redundancy of the CFAA.

      • It's the seriousness of the charge, not the nature of evidence that matters. Justice? WTF is that?!!

        • by Camael (1048726) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @10:35PM (#44067283)

          I agree. The true problem is not the plea bargain system, its the fact that the badly and loosely drafted CFAA passed by politicians allowed the prosecutor to file so many ridiculous charges against Aaron in the first place.

          Here's a summary of the charges Aaron faced, from wiki [wikipedia.org]:

          On July 11, 2011, Swartz was indicted in Federal District Court on four felony counts: wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer. On September 12, 2012, the prosecution filed a superseding indictment adding nine more felony counts.

          Seth Finkelstein analysed the charges explained what it meant [sethf.com]:-

          And as I've said before - they don't like him. They really don't like him. Previously the indictment had alleged four "counts" of different legal violations each, making four felonies in total. There are now 13 felony counts in the new indictment, derived from claims of multiple instances of breaking those four laws. In specific:

          Wire Fraud - 2 counts
          Computer Fraud - 5 counts
          Unlawfully Obtaining Information from a Protected Computer - 5 counts
          Recklessly Damaging a Protected Computer - 1 count

          It's beyond my pay grade to figure out how many years in prison that all could be, when taking into account the complexities of sentencing law. Let's leave it at a large scary number. Enough to ruin someone's life.

          CFAA is too loosely drafted, provides for punishments grossly exceeding the nature of the crime, with no sense of proportionality and is abusive. That is the real problem.

    • I think people have already suggested this and everyone agrees that the US Justice system would explode.

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @05:44PM (#44065621) Journal

        Maybe it should. After all, the broken justice system is the reason that we have more people in prison per capita than any other civilized nation on Earth. A complete collapse might just force some much-needed reform in a lot of areas.

        • If "explode" means that they'd have to prioritize cases and just dismiss the rest, then, yes I agree. A lot of that would probably no longer prosecuting minor drug offenders. Hopefully, within the next 50 years (or less) we'll go the way of Portugal and decriminalize all of it and opt to treat addicts instead. Which might make having full trials for all cases plausible.

          • by idontgno (624372)

            If "explode" means that they'd have to prioritize cases and just dismiss the rest, then, yes I agree. A lot of that would probably no longer prosecuting major bank and stock fraud.

            FTFY. After all, who better to benefit from a little slack than the 1%. They have everything else; it's only fair they get what they've been denied.

            • That would be terrible. Think of all those bank and stock cases they've been prosecuting that the perpetrators would have just gotten away with. Oh wait, there aren't any. They only get taken to court to appease the masses and only if they're so egregious that they wouldn't be able to dismiss them anyway. Clearly, you're not from this reality. Please post only on the slashdot site for your dimension.

          • by zAPPzAPP (1207370)

            That just means they can choose which case to prosecute and which one to dismiss because of 'too much work'.
            Which would give them even more power.

            When everyone is a criminal, but we only go after the ones that we do not like for whatever reason, we can just forget the whole justice thing all together.

        • Re:Not good enough. (Score:4, Informative)

          by similar_name (1164087) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @06:03PM (#44065771)

          the broken justice system is the reason that we have more people in prison per capita than any other civilized nation on Earth

          More than any [slashdot.org] other nation on Earth. Civilized or not. We have our own color on the map.

        • "Maybe it should. After all, the broken justice system is the reason that we have more people in prison per capita than any other civilized nation on Earth. A complete collapse might just force some much-needed reform in a lot of areas."

          I'm not so sure it's "the justice system" that is broken. More like Congress, on both State and Federal levels. After all, they're the ones who pass the laws.

          Having said that: I do agree that the Supreme Court lately has seemed... well... if not broken, it sure is bent.

      • Let it explode; it's not much of a "justice" system anyway.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          My god, man! Think for a moment about what you're suggesting! Without the "just us system" how will the wealthy protect their assets from the rabble?!

      • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @05:50PM (#44065671) Journal

        And why would that be a bad thing? We already have the biggest prison population in the world. Perhaps our injustice system needs to work a little less efficiently?

        Hell, with all the money it takes to keep people incarcerated, we would probably save money by giving everyone a trial and incarcerating fewer people. There's a big "peace dividend" in it for all of us when we stop waging war on our own citizens.

        • Note that, in my post, when I said the justice system would explode, I didn't say if that was a good or bad thing. I think I'd almost prefer no police/legal system and just vigilanteism to what we have now. Though, to our justice system's credit, I do enjoy having fewer serial killers and rapists roaming around.

          • by murdocj (543661)

            right... because we'd be way better off living like Somalia or Afghanistan and paying tribute to the local gangs and warlords than plea bargaining marijuana cases.

            What planet do you live on, anyway?

            • I'm sure the grinding poverty and religious extremism have nothing to do with the conditions in Somalia. Maybe it's the anarchy causing those. Maybe it causes the droughts in Somalia too.

          • by Zynder (2773551)
            While I share your sentiment, vigilantism is more assuredly worse. That becomes mob rule and it sucks. I also can't neccessarily agree that big punishments stop serial killers and rapists. Those acts are almost always done by mentally broken people who have no idea what is acceptable in society or don't care. Your solution of rehabilitation (mentioned in a diff post) would be more effective in that regard. I would agree that the big punishments though probably do deter "regular" murders. What are thos
            • I think it it would be an interesting case to see how vigilantism would work. I think there would be pockets of chaos and pockets of civilized areas. The chaotic ones may wipe themselves out. Our crimes of passion might kill us all or everyone might learn self-control with the knowledge that losing it at any time could kill you. This is all theoretical and in the real world would necessarily start with a gradual repeal of laws, which we could certainly use. In the end, every society is always sliding a

              • by Zynder (2773551)
                Oh I am all aboard with you on preventing the raping and killing. That is a desirable goal. Also I cannot refute any statement you made regarding the sliding scale. That is actually how it is. I do not want to repeat historical mistakes though trying to slide the scale back the other way. This whole story is about Somalia, land of anarchy. There is a perfect example of why we shouldn't do that. Definitely NOT desirable.

                There is nothing to be forgiven! Daydreaming is healthy and with Slashdot, I k
    • by Pseudonym (62607)

      Even that doesn't go far enough. Abolish plea bargaining, grand juries, and elected prosecutors.

      • I'd like to see judges and juries able to suspend prosecutorial immunity for the cases they're on. If they determine the prosecution was unwarranted to the point of being criminal or that they performed criminal acts (withholding evidence, for example), then the prosecutor is automatically charged for those acts.

    • You would think that even if someone plead guilty, and it was not just for a plea agreement, you would still have a trial. People admit to crimes they did not commit constantly, just because someone admits their guilt that does not give you very much evidence that they actually did it.

    • Re:Not good enough. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Yvanhoe (564877) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @10:23PM (#44067203) Journal
      You know, Aaron Swartz was not fighting against a judicial process. He was trying to get scientific publication free of charge for everyone in order to boost scientific progress.

      THIS is what we could do to honor him. All the proposals I see can be summed up by "he would have been condemned but by fair trial, not by an abusive procedure." None attack the core issue : that it is considered illegal to share freely scientific publications.
  • Aaaaannnnd the ball rolls way too far the other way. How about just a little penalty, max, for someone who rips off a whole copyrighted web site and data? And don't make the penalties cumulative or sequential.

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      How is this rolling the ball too far the other way? All this bill does is prevent criminal prosecution for violation of any terms of use that are unsupported by technical barriers. A civil suit might be appropriate in those cases, but downloading a bunch of files from a web server, regardless of what the terms of use say, is not a criminal act; it is the use of a server to do precisely what it was designed to do, in precisely the way that it was intended to be used. Only the quantity of said downloads w

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      Aaaaannnnd the ball rolls way too far the other way. How about just a little penalty, max, for someone who rips off a whole copyrighted web site and data? And don't make the penalties cumulative or sequential.

      but every byte is a different crime!

  • Thank you Ron. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by conspirator23 (207097) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @05:57PM (#44065723)

    I don't have the privilege of living in Sen. Wyden's district any longer, but I always voted for him when I did, and that was well before his name became associated with civil liberties in the digital age. He played a critical role in getting the NTSB to conduct a much-needed-and-unheard-of civilian investigation of a C-130 crash that killed 10 Oregon National Guardsmen. From then until now he has repeatedly demonstrated tenacity, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to say unpopular things for as long as I've cared to watch his performance as a Senator.

    Yes, I realize Slashdot is probably the absolute last place on earth to say anything positive about an elected official. I should be trying to hype some unelectable wacko instead. Sorry to dissappoint.

    • by keytoe (91531)

      I'll second this. Ron is a shining example of integrity and compassion in our rotten political environment. I am honored that I still get to vote for him.

  • While this is a step in the right direction, it doesn't address the problem that plea bargaining is being used as a form of psychological torture and extortion. It also doesn't fix the 6th and 8th amendment issues with these cases. Another problem it doesn't address is cases where the victim doesn't feel like a victim. IIRC, neither JSTOR or MIT wanted to press charges (one of them did at first and changed their mind, I cant remember which). In this case its not like the "victims" were weak and afraid like
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I support this. The laws regarding "hacking" have gotten out of hand. They ruined that kid's life. Even hardened criminals who commit atrocious crimes get treated better. And, get lighter sentences.

  • OK so it's not everything we want or a solution for all abuses but if your elected representatives are going to do something this constructive and which directly addresses a specific outrageous abuse , then it's incumbent upon us to say *thanks for listening* and show some love, however uncool or simple that may strike some people.

    So, thanks for listening and taking action Representative Lofgren, and Senator Wyden.

    • by Shoten (260439)

      OK so it's not everything we want or a solution for all abuses but if your elected representatives are going to do something this constructive and which directly addresses a specific outrageous abuse , then it's incumbent upon us to say *thanks for listening* and show some love, however uncool or simple that may strike some people.

      So, thanks for listening and taking action Representative Lofgren, and Senator Wyden.

      You know what, you're absolutely right. Some may argue that it's not enough, some may say it's not the right approach...but for fuck's sake everyone, these two are doing something.
      (Would someone please mod the quoted post up?)

  • Some web site TOS or EULA have non legal stuff in them.

    So if you are facing time for something like that Have them read out the full TOS in court and then have an objection to all of the non legal stuff in them to have the full TOS tossed out.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well ok that sounds like a good idea... BUT...

    The real problem is the justice guys can choose to make an example of someone and go WAY overboard.

    thats what needs to stop.

    thats what killed this kid.

    That stupid bitch carmen ortiz wanted to make an example out of him to score some brownie points. And murdered a kid. Just as surely as if she had shot him.

    Her action directly caused the death. and she'll never pay for it. that's the sad part.

  • ...what he did will still be a crime.
  • Why does it have to be called Aaron's Law? If Wyden and Lofgren think something needs changing, can't they should do so on the argument's own merits, without invoking the name of a dead guy to tug at the heartstrings?

    Besides, I thought the main problem was the hyper-zealous way the prosecutors came after Schwarz, more than the actual law itself?

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