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Cyber crime policies may see reforms, courtesy ‘Aaron’s Law’

Cyber crime policies may see reforms

The loopholes in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which was introduced in 1986, were clearly highlighted by the earlier reported prosecution and death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz. These same loopholes were used by Federal prosecutors to press very serious charges for harmless Internet activities. Now two members of Congress, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), are all set to formally introduce “Aaron’s Law” in an attempt to fix the ageing law and prevent its abuse. The CFAA reform bill was first seen on Reddit and aims at fixing the loopholes in the law.

According to Wired, both Congress members have shown how the vague definitions of “unauthorised access” and “exceeding access” are key points that lead to a broad and sometimes unnecessary understanding of what a computer crime really is. The vagueness allows prosecutors to charge anything as small as using a fake name on Facebook as a crime that is punishable as a felony. The final draft of Aaron’s Law will look at clarifying the language used in the Act to only include cyber crimes that are clear acts of “knowingly circumventing one or more technological or physical measure” that have been put in place to secure information against unauthorised access, like encrypted files or a locked office door. Aaron’s Law also wants to address the loopholes which allow prosecutors to charge defendants several times for the same violation.

Prodigal programmer Aaron Swartz is dead (image credit: Mashable)

Aaron’s Law to be formally introduced to address issues in CFAA

In the now infamous case, US attorneys Steven Heymann and Carmen Ortiz used the vague language in the bill to force the Internet activist to agree to a plea bargain after threatening him with up a 35-year prison sentence. The charges came when Swartz accessed MIT’s open network to automatically download millions of publicly funded academic papers that were locked behind JSTOR’s paywall. While JSTOR itself refused to press charges, Swartz’s infringement with the Terms of Service allowed the government to prosecute him under the CFAA.