"Aaron's Law" introduced, would change computer law so violating Terms of Service isn't a felony

Aaron Swartz killed himself two years to the day after he was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a controversial legislation that some courts have interpreted as making it a felony to do anything not explicitly authorized with a computer you don't own (for example, changing one character in a URL in your browser and accessing a document can be a felony). Many attempts have been made to reform CFAA, none successful. Now Rep Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has introduced "Aaron's Law", to insert the following in its pre-amble:

A violation of an agreement or contractual obligation regarding Internet or computer use, such as an acceptable use policy or terms of service agreement, with an Internet service provider, Internet website, or employer is not in itself a violation of this section.

Larry Lessig has endorsed the proposal, saying, "Hey, this is a CRITICALLY important change that would do incredible good. The CFAA was the hook for the government's bullying of @aaronsw. This law would remove that hook. In a single line: no longer would it be a felony to breach a contract. Let's get this done for Aaron — now."

This is a great start. A great start. But it's only a start. Aaron's cause wasn't bringing justice to computer users, it was bringing justice to everyone. America is history's number one imprisoner, and its penal system is ghastly and inhumane. CFAA-based bullying is just a symptom, not the disease.

I'm Rep Zoe Lofgren & I'm introducing "Aaron's Law" to change the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) (lofgren.house.gov) (via Techdirt)


  1. Also: a new bill needs to define “authorization.”  It’s vaguely worded in the CFAA, from what I understand, and it needs specific, strict definition. 

    Authorization from whom, for whom, for what specifically, under what terms, for how long, pertaining to precisely WHAT, exactly?

  2. I don’t mean to be the critical asshole, but I find it slightly disturbing that it required a suicide to get these things going.  I think it is inarguable that Mr. Swartz had great things in his future, although I admit that I hadn’t heard of him prior to last week.  Are we teaching our next generation of activists that suicide is an acceptable promotional tool if you’ve been wronged and have friends in media?

    Or, how fucked is our system that change still required self-martyrdom?  I’m just going to keep telling myself that the world would have been better off without the suicide, although I can see a potential argument to the contrary in this case (which makes me sick).

    1. “Are we teaching our next generation of activists that suicide is an acceptable promotional tool if you’ve been wronged and have friends in media?”

      The campaign for women’s suffrage started with a suicide, and was successful, and it still didn’t cause activists to use it for other cases. 

  3. It’s a good start, but even then the CFAA will continue to cover acts that range from the heinous to the inane with the same penalties, and leave the distinction to prosecutorial discretion. 

  4. This strikes me as an overreach:

    ‘America[‘s] penal system is ghastly and inhumane.’

    There are indubitably abuses of power, of people, and of justice in the American penal system, but until US punishments conventionally include stoning women for having sex, hanging gays, or beheading prisoners, I don’t think we’re in the realm of ‘ghastly and inhumane’.

    That said, a threat of 35 years in prison for copying files is outrageous.

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