Maybe you should take it easy on the second helpings at Thanksgiving. CNET has gotten its hands on a statement that’s supposed to be delivered by the Justice Department today that would make things like using a fake name on Facebook or entering a false weight on Match.com a crime. Salman Rushdie, we hope you’re paying attention.
In the statement, the DOJ argues that the agency needs to be able to prosecute violations of a website’s “terms of service” policy. While it opens users up to potentially frivolous violations, the DOJ says scaling back the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), “would make it difficult or impossible to deter and address serious insider threats through prosecution,” such as identity theft, privacy invasions, or abuse of government databases.
For example, the conviction of Lori Drew, the woman who was charged under CFAA for violating MySpace’s terms of service for bullying a 13-year-old girl who then committed suicide, was thrown out due to limitations in the law.
That happened because a portion of the CFAA–a general purpose prohibition on any act on a computer that “exceeds authorized access”–was not meant to be used to police crimes like Ms. Drew’s.
As CNET explains, “To the Justice Department, this means that a Web site’s terms of service define what’s ‘authorized’ or not, and ignoring them can turn you into a felon.”
Naturally, there are many opposed to this power grab by the DOJ. A coalition including the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and FreedomWorks warns writes in a letter sent to the Senate in August:
“If a person assumes a fictitious identity at a party, there is no federal crime,” the letter says. “Yet if they assume that same identity on a social network that prohibits pseudonyms, there may again be a CFAA violation. This is a gross misuse of the law.”
Wait, who are these people assuming fake identities at parties? Where can we meet them? We need some tips on pulling off this Russian billionaire venture capitalist persona we’ve been working on.