Changes Necessary for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?

The latest draft of proposed changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could technically make it so anyone under age 18 caught browsing the news online could face jail time. According to the changes, any violation of a site’s Terms of Service would be considered a criminal act, thus any person under an age restriction would be committing a crime. These changes are on a fast track to Congress, to appear in time for its “cyber week” in mid April.

“Under the proposed changes, users could be punished and possibly even prosecuted for accessing a website in a way it wasn’t meant to be used,” writes International Business Times. “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 using their site.”

Many publications have these age requirements, some more strict than others. The New York Times and Boston Globe have lowered their age restriction age to 13. “However, this would mean that curious 12-year-olds that misrepresent their ages by accessing these news sites would be ‘criminals,’ according to the DOJ’s take on the new CFAA draft,” adds the article.

Though it could be argued that the majority of cases won’t be prosecuted, the approach represents a potential slippery slope. The Ninth Circuit of Appeals, for example, issued a decision in United States v. Nosal, which found “that employees who access workplace computers in violation of corporate policy aren’t breaking federal anti-hacking laws,” details the article.

At the time of that case, the Ninth Circuit argued that “seldom-prosecuted crimes invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” Meaning, it would leave open the door for singling out CFAA violators, “just as Internet activist Aaron Swartz was singled out and hounded under the same law for years, up into his suicide,” adds IBT.

“The Electronic Frontier Foundation is tackling the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act with its own alternative proposals, which include eliminating duplicative penalties and reducing some computer crimes from felonies to misdemeanors,” notes the article.