Lori Drew is Guilty — AND SO ARE YOU!

A twisted adult, Lori Drew, creates a MySpace page. She creates a fake profile of an adolescent boy, strikes up a friendship with a young girl, Megan Mier. Ms. Drew, breaks that Megan’s fragile heart, and the girl commits suicide.

And much of America called for Lori Drew’s head.

There was a moral wrong here. Fucking with someone’s heart just for the sick pleasure of it, especially a teenage girl’s heart, is just wrong. However, every moral wrong does not come along with a legal cause of action. In this case, prosecutors were damned and determined to prosecute Lori Drew, they did, and they won.

The problem is, they used a statute that didn’t fit the crime — and in the process, they made a criminal out of every single person who has ever used the internet. The government used 18 U.S.C. § 1030, the computer fraud and abuse act, to prosecute Ms. Drew. 18 U.S.C. § 1030 is a wonderful example of well-considered legislation. It makes unauthorized hacking a criminal offense, and it provides for private causes of action for the same offenses.

The government’s theory was that since Ms. Drew accessed MySpace without adhering to MySpace’s terms of service, then she made an unauthorized entry into MySpace’s servers.

As Sam Bayard at the Citizen Media Law Project reports:

Judge Wu has not yet ruled on Drew’s motions to dismiss the indictment for failure to state an offense and for judgment of acquittal based on lack of evidence of intent, either of which could result in the complete dismissal of all charges against Drew. This is where the important legal precedent will be set, because the court will finally have to decide whether or not violating a website’s terms of use is a federal criminal offense and, if so, whether someone can commit that crime without even reading the relevant terms of use.

Sam is exactly right. But, Scott Greenfield puts it in terms that we should all be able to understand. He compares 18 U.S.C. § 1030 to the ubiquitous “speed trap” — and the fact that now Section 1030 can be used to turn every privately-owned website into a vehicle for the government to go after someone it disapproves of.

The fear that the government will not take up arms against pseudononymous users is silly. They aren’t gunning for short guys who fill out their profile saying they stand 6 foot 4, or women who chop a few years off their age. The problem is that this is a speed trap, available for the government to pull out of its bag when it needs to “get” someone.

Under the current verdict in the Drew case, the internet is replete with misdemeanants. People provide less that 100% accurate information in filling out their profiles all the time. All the time. This makes many, even a majority perhaps, of Americans criminals. It’s bad when a law is interpreted in such a way that most people are criminals.

Since it’s unlikely that the government has any intention of trolling the profiles of MySpace users in search of inaccuracy, and lacks the federal courtrooms or jail beds necessary to deal with it, most of us need not fear the Lori Drew application. But do something that the government really doesn’t like, or do something that raises cackles elsewhere because there’s no ready law available to make you pay, and you’ll find yourself in this speed trap.

Nobody ever realizes that they’re in trouble for doing what everybody does until they see the lights flashing behind them and hear the chirp of the siren. By then, it’s too late. (source)

Sheep often say “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from the government.” Nice try. I only know two people who have read MY terms of service, yet you are probably reading this posting without having done so. You just very well may be violating Section 1030. If you post a comment to this post that offends the wrong prosecutor, then you’ve done enough to be indicted for unauthorized access in order to further a tortious act.

I find it strange that Judge Wu has not ruled on the motions to dismiss before turning this case over to the jury. The jury clearly voted with their emotions instead of with their brains — which isn’t surprising. Lori Drew is a douchebag. She should be run out of every town where she tries to live, she should be pelted with shit everywhere, she should be shamed and pursued to the point that she has to change her name and move to a foreign country.

But that doesn’t mean that our laws should be turned on people that they never intended to punish. If Ms. Drew’s conviction stands, we have all lost our freedom. We have come to a point where you can barely step out of your home or sit at a keyboard without violating one of the thousands of overlapping laws, passed by idiots, enforced by idiots, that bring about idiotic results. We don’t need overzealous prosecutors filling in the tiny cracks of interlocking laws to make the web of laws a complete lid over all of us.

6 Responses to Lori Drew is Guilty — AND SO ARE YOU!

  1. SSFC says:

    Too often judges refuse to rule on hard cases (not that I think this one was difficult at all) hoping that the jury will get it right and leave no room for appeal. I suspect that’s what Judge Wu did here. At least I hope that’s what Judge Wu did here.

    Of course one can question whether a judge who refuses to rule, when he knows what the law demands, in the hope that the jury will get it right is doing his job in the first place.

  2. Dio Gratia says:

    There is a first amendment collision with the right to anonymous speech on the Internet with respect to “the fact that now Section 1030 can be used to turn every privately-owned website into a vehicle for the government to go after someone it disapproves of.”

    See http://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

    The question becomes does making it illegal to hide your identity with a (free) service provider effectively prevent anonymity? Relying on an anonimizer service could probably be shown to be ineffective in the face of such things as national security letters.

  3. M. Stewart Pearl says:


    I just returned to practicing law in Illinois after a 9 year sabbatical, and was wondering (actually was apprehensive) as to how I would get cases of interest as well as find paying clients) after being out of the mix for so long and with so many more lawyers !

    Well as we continue to enact more and more rules and regulations and laws, as you allude to, the more likely one will encounter the need for an attorney to clear the mess up! In fact when I placed my first online “ad” ever a few months ago, I referenced how our government, despite politicians’ and citizens’ alleged desire for less government and less regulation, continues to enact so much crap that one must retain an attorney to keep them out of trouble, or face countless hours researching how to avoid arrest , penalty, sanction or fine; and even then not being able to conjure up exactly what is an offense or infraction, and what is arguably reasonable or allowable conduct.

    And then, of course, there is always the common law.

    I look forward to reading more…. you sound like my kind of guy/attorney!

    (ok gotta go read your ‘terms of service’ before big brother finds out)

  4. artie says:

    By supplying MySpace with false information, Lori Drew did not violate but rejected the terms of service. If she did not agree to the terms, how can she tried for violating them?

  5. […] case’s logic seemed to criminalize any violation of a website’s Terms of Service (see Marc’s Satyricon post, CMLP, Threat Level, and numerous links […]

  6. […] case’s logic seemed to criminalize any violation of a website’s Terms of Service (see Marc’s Satyricon post, CMLP, Threat Level, and numerous links […]

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