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Crime United States

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

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 @01:35PM (#43359339)
    Want to keep the public in the dark and ill-informed? This is the perfect way!
  • Only in America (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AoOs ( 1336153 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @01:36PM (#43359373) Homepage Journal


  • by spongebue ( 925835 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @01:40PM (#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
  • Re:Alarmist much? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @01:42PM (#43359475) Homepage Journal

    Something doesn't smell right here. Some moron is misinterpreting law again.

    The odds are much better than this is actually how the law is being written, and they are "expecting the court to correctly interpret it" because, you know, that' the job of the courts... to interpret the intended meaning of the law. (facepalm)

    Writing the law correctly and unambiguously would just be too much of a bother for the congresscritters.

  • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @01:48PM (#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.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 04, 2013 @01:52PM (#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 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 l0ungeb0y ( 442022 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @01:53PM (#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)


  • Re:Alarmist much? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @01:55PM (#43359697) Homepage

    The odds are much better than this is actually how the law is being written, and they are "expecting the court to correctly interpret it" because, you know, that' the job of the courts... to interpret the intended meaning of the law.

    And then they complain about 'activist judges' who tell them their laws, as written, are crap and can't possibly stand in law.

    If you can't pass a law which is actually compatible with your legal frame work, don't be surprised when a judge rules it void because it violated half a dozen legal foundations.

    And the TOS for a web site could be random, arbitrary, and illegal ... there is no attempt whatsoever to address this. "By visiting this site, you owe me $1000 and a blowjob" or any other crap that has no place in contract law, and there's no attempt to ensure you're not waiving rights you're not supposed to be able to waive (like class action suits for instance).

    This is just more stupidity to pander to big business and screw the rest of us.

  • by strikeleader ( 937501 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @02:03PM (#43359831)
    I am surprised by this. You would think that the current administration would want to let all the young impressionable minds read the daily propaganda that the state run media regurgitates every day to keep them brain washed. After all you wouldn’t want them thinking for themselves.
  • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @02:20PM (#43360089)

    Don't attribute to malice that which can be accounted for by stupidity. Congress is an example of representative government in action. Most people now are idiots and they elect idiots who make idiot laws. Hence we have crazy legislation like this that we don't even need. At least once we're all in jail we'll be safe.....I guess.

  • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @02:26PM (#43360191)
    "State-run media"? More like "Media-run state" from where I sit...
  • by waterbear ( 190559 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @02:35PM (#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.


  • by julian67 ( 1022593 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @03:44PM (#43361313)

    No, most people now are not idiots. But curiously some /. commentators can make such a crass generalisation without understanding who is left looking stupid as the words come tumbling out.

  • by bdwebb ( 985489 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @04:06PM (#43361675)
    A representative government is supposed to fulfill the will of the people who elected those representatives. Our government only fulfills the personal goals of the representatives that are elected and around election time they just have to pander a bit to the masses to pretend that they were doing *something* that wasn't akin to raping their constituents best interests over a table.

    Even most idiots realize that things like this are fucking crazy...the representatives don't care, though, because they make the $$ and have the power. Oh wait, they make some of the $$ and have some of the power but they have corporate puppeteers to answer to that helped put them in office, hence legislation like this. Terms of Service as LAW??? Holy shit...that has media organizations written all over it. Pay no attention to the corporation behind the curtain!
  • by Frobnicator ( 565869 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @04:39PM (#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.


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

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @05:12PM (#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.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen