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:
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.