Home > Federal Power, Free Speech, Rights > An expansion of CFAA is another attack upon civil liberties

An expansion of CFAA is another attack upon civil liberties

April 8, 2013

Back in the mid-80’s the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was enacted into law (18 USC § 1030). From its inception this law has been a thorn in the side of civil liberties. This law was purposely very vague and broad. CFAA can also be attributed as the cause of death for Aaron Swartz. This overly broad and vague law is about to be expanded so federal prosecutors have even more power. Apparently DC has no problems further eroding civil liberties in the name of “cyber-security”.

To prevent this the Internet Defense League has launched an effort to get citizens engaged with their elected representatives. It is important that anyone concerned about civil liberties get involved. TechDirt has a good overview of just a few parts of this CFAA expansion. Here are a few reasons to fight against the expanded version of CFAA:

  • Computer crimes would be considered racketeering. Really? Just the act of using a computer in a crime makes it a racketeering crime! Criminal code used to bring down the mafia will be used against anyone using a computer to do a crime?
  • Talking about using a computer to commit a crime would be a prosecution-able offense under the CFAA!  Currently federal prosecutors believe that anyone breaking the Terms of Service (ToS) for a website run afoul of CFAA. With this expansion it would now be illegal to talk about breaking the Terms of Service for a website.
  • The expanded CFAA would increase the forfeiture capabilities of the government in computer-related crimes. Really? Is it a good idea to add further financial gain from overzealous federal prosecutors?

It would be easy to think: “well I don’t ever plan on committing a crime with a computer so why should I care about this law”. The problem is CFAA is often chosen to prosecute people the government wants to put in jail, but has committed no actual crime. Here is a sample scenario of the expanded CFAA gone wrong (I’m using myself as the scenario subject):

The current Presidential Administration (Democrat or Republican, Obama or Bush, doesn’t matter which) decides they are getting too much civil discontent caused by liberty-minded bloggers. As a liberty-minded blogger I would be a potential target of attack. However going after me for what I write would become a first amendment issue and a hard sell for the administration. Instead they can look at my other online activity for “punishable offenses” utilizing CFAA. Here are a few punishable offenses I find on myself without even trying hard to look for them:

  1. A couple of years ago I used to write a blog for a Facebook game called Castle Age. It was a fun game. To help get more blogging information about this game I created a second Facebook account under a fake name. Creating a fake alternate account is against the Facebook Terms of Service. Having done that I have now committed a ‘crime’ in the view of CFAA.
  2. Last year I wrote a post critical of the NRA. In this post I used the “F-word”. Since I did not label that post as “adult” within WordPress I have broken the Terms of Service for my blog provider. I have another ‘crime’ under my belt for this one.
  3. Earlier this year I posted a link to a video that is copyright protected (and thus illegal to post online without permission). Even though I only linked to the video I could be prosecuted under CFAA. By posting the link I am asking others to view this illegal video. Thats three ‘crimes’ so far.
  4. Two years ago I was the guest speaker for a Technology User Group in Minneapolis. At this meeting I informed the audience of various way to bypass the security of some well-known computer networking gear. I even asked the audience to try some of these techniques when returning to their jobs. This was done with the intent of education so computer administrators will start taking network security more serious. However this could also be seen as ‘conspiracy to commit a crime using a computer’. Damn, I’m up to four crimes now.
  5. And finally  I told my teenage son it was OK to lie about his age on a game website in order to become a member. By doing this I have talked about committing a crime (breaking the terms of service) and made my son break the law. This last crime will probably keep me in jail for life.

It may seem absurd that such menial ‘crimes’ would put someone in jail. Many would also think this would never happen in America. It would be easier to believe the government wouldn’t misuse an expanded CFAA if overzealous government officials hadn’t caused the death of Aaron Swartz and put someone in jail for an article on Huffington Post.

  1. June 2, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be fantastic if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  2. July 2, 2013 at 6:47 am

    This page certainly has all of the information and
    facts I needed concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  3. July 18, 2013 at 4:57 am

    Does your website have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d
    like to send you an e-mail. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: