Online activists presented on Thursday the first draft copy of legislation born on the Internet, inspired by the suicide of Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, who was facing 35 years in prison for accessing a database of academic research without permission.
Introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill (PDF) draws a clear distinction between someone who accesses information without authorization and someone who is actually committing an act in cyberspace meant to harm someone or destroy property.
Critics of the current law, called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), say it is far too vague and led to the overzealous prosecution of Swartz after he accessed an MIT database containing academic research papers, many of which were created with public funding.
Aaron’s Law would also cut back on redundant penalties in the current CFAA that can see some offenders punished twice for the same crime. The bill also seeks to address a flaw in the current law that makes “unauthorized access” of any kind a felony, whereas something as simple as lying about one’s age to Facebook could be considered a violation of the company’s terms of service, and therefore unauthorized access.
“The result is a proposal that we believe, if enacted into law, safeguards commonplace online activity from overbroad prosecution and overly harsh penalties, while ensuring that real harmful activity is discouraged and fully prosecuted,” Wyden and Lofgren wrote in Wired. “The law must separate its treatment of everyday Internet activity from criminals intent on causing serious damage to financial, social, civic, or security institutions.”
“Since we lost Aaron in January there have been good days and there have been bad days. This is a good day,” David Segal, director of Demand Progress and a former colleague of Swartz, said in an advisory. “Through the collective effort of the movement Aaron created at Demand Progress and through the hard work by Representative Lofgren and Senator Wyden, Aaron’s work lives on… When Aaron’s Law is signed into law it will mean that Aaron will continue to do in death what he always did in life, protect the freedoms and rights of all people.”
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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