Read this if you want to stay out of jail.
When my friend Aaron Swartz committed suicide in January, he'd been the subject of a DoJ press-release stating that the Federal prosecutors who had indicted him were planning on imprisoning him for 25 years for violating the terms of service of a site that hosted academic journals. Aaron had downloaded millions of articles from that website, but that wasn't the problem. He was licensed to read all the articles they hosted. The problem was, the way he downloaded the articles violated the terms and conditions of the service. And bizarrely -- even though the website didn't want to press the matter -- the DoJ decided that this was an imprisonable felony, under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which makes it a crime to "exceed your authorization" on any online service.
The DoJ reasoned that if the law said that doing anything "unauthorized" was a crime, and if the long, gnarly hairball of legalese that no one reads before clicking "I agree" set out what you were allowed to do, then violations of that "agreement" were a felony.
Aaron's death galvanized some Congresscritters to do something about this oversight. The ancient CFAA predated the widespread use of terms of service in everyday activities like hanging out with your friends, reading the newspaper, getting an education or signing up for a dating service. Congress did not intend to create a situation where companies that provided services could put any unreasonable condition they wanted into an "agreement" you might never see ("By using this website, you accept all terms and conditions") and then ask the DoJ to put people in prison for decades if they violated them.
The reform to CFAA was welcome and long overdue. But the DoJ has asked some members of the House Judiciary Committee to make it worse.
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