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Friday, 18 January 2013 10:30

US Government to launch sensible hacking law

Written by Nick Farrell



Don’t worry they will never pass it


US Senators are mulling over the un-thinkable – they want to pass a law which is fair and reasonable and prevents idiotic court cases with high penalties. Traditionally the US has adopted a legal system which is a little like Saudi Arabia.  Despite all evidence, they think that the tougher the penalties the less likely people are to commit crimes.

Recently this policy has been applied against people who violate the terms and conditions of websites and the hounding of one such high-profile computer activist’s suicide.  In that situation that involved threatening to lock him up for years and fining him a million dollars for the “crime” of violating the terms and conditions of a site he was allowed to visit. While there is no doubt that Aaron Swartz  broke contract law, the fact that he has been hit by criminal charges are just daft.

Now Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has introduced a draft bill to change this rule of the CFAA and return contract law to its civil home. Her bill, which she calls "Aaron's Law," would limit the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and exclude "crimes" that are nothing more than a breach of contract. It would mean no more "felonies." No more prosecutions resulting in prison sentences. Violations of the "terms of service" would be a breach, not a crime.  If the change was made before Aaron's death, the government's felony charges would likely have collapsed.

However there are a few problems here. The US Congress is ruled by powerful lobby groups who pay for politicians to toe their particular line. In this case Aaron’s Law could easily be opposed by Big Content who need the US police and judiciary to act as its personal security force, otherwise it will be too expensive for them to police their flaccid business model.  If it is a civil and not a criminal act to breach a website’s terms and conditions, it will mean that Big Content will have to spend money on lawyers shutting down sites like Megaupload, rather than having the government doing it on its behalf.

Our bet is that these sorts of forces will attempt to kill what amounts to a reasonable law.  After all what has reason got to do with the US legal system.

Nick Farrell

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