Facebooking Is Not a Crime

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 15 2011 11:43 AM

Facebooking Is Not a Crime

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In the Wall Street Journal, George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr casts a withering look at the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a law that originally dealt with hacking and has been slowly widened to encompass all manner of computer-related mischief. “The law now criminalizes computer use that ‘exceeds authorized access’ to any computer,” says Kerr. While violations are currently misdemeanor offenses, the Senate Judiciary Committee is today considering elevating it to a felony. The act also permits civil suits that border on the frivolous, such as when an individual was sued by a former employer for “excessive Internet usage from work”—like visiting Facebook.

“Breaching an agreement or ignoring your boss might be bad. But should it be a federal crime just because it involves a computer? If interpreted this way, the law gives computer owners the power to criminalize any computer use they don't like,” Kerr argues.


Kerr has a history of disagreeing with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In 2008, he served as a pro bono attorney for Lori Drew, the woman accused of encouraging a young girl’s suicide via MySpace cyberbullying. Drew was initially convicted of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for “unauthorized access”—creating a fake MySpace profile. A judge later threw out the misdemeanor conviction, saying that the prosecutors’ theory would “would convert a multitude of otherwise innocent internet users into misdemeanant criminals.”

Read more on the Wall Street Journal.


Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 



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