Feeds

Legal experts wary of MySpace hacking charges

'We are all felons if this flies'

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

On October 16, 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier fled from her family's computer, distraught over the cutting comments of her supposed "friends" on MySpace. Twenty minutes later, the troubled teen was dead; she had hung herself in her closet.

The story, widely reported, garnered the girl's family widespread sympathy on the Internet. The twist that Lori Drew, a 47-year-old neighbor and mother of a former friend of Megan's, had allegedly created the fake persona of a 16-year-old boy to befriend and later torment the girl brought outrage. Yet, state investigators could not find a law under which Drew could be charged.

More than a year and a half later, federal prosecutors finally have their case. On Thursday, the US Attorney for the Central District of California announced that Lori Drew, now 49 years old, was indicted on conspiracy and hacking charges. The indictment charges Drew, a resident of O'Fallon, Missouri, with three counts of unauthorized access by violation of MySpace's terms of service and one count of conspiracy.

"This adult woman allegedly used the Internet to target a young teenage girl, with horrendous ramifications," US Attorney Thomas P. O' Brien said in a statement announcing the indictment. "After a thorough investigation, we have charged Ms. Drew with criminally accessing MySpace and violating rules established to protect young, vulnerable people. Any adult who uses the Internet or a social gathering website to bully or harass another person, particularly a young teenage girl, needs to realize that their actions can have serious consequences."

Yet, legal experts argue that charging a person for violating computer-crime statutes because they broke the terms-of-service agreement of an online site could lead to the ability to charge nearly anyone with computer crime. Using residential broadband for business purposes? A violation of the terms of service and, thus, potentially a crime. Checking sports sites while at work? A violation of corporate policy and, thus, potentially a crime.

"'Hard cases make bad law' is an axiom in the legal world," said Mark Rasch, managing director of enterprise-services firm FTI Consulting and a former U.S. prosecutor. "This is a case where people have seen bad conduct and have said there must be something we can do, but if prosecution of this case is successful, every pseudonym and every minor violation of the terms of service becomes a computer crime."

According to the indictment, Drew and others allegedly conspired to violate MySpace's terms of service and intentionally inflict emotional distress on Megan, identified only as MTM in the court documents. The indictment alleges that Drew obtained a MySpace account under a fictitious name, used the account to garner information from a juvenile, and used that information to torment, humiliate and harass that member -- all violations of the social-networking site's terms of service.

While the US Attorney's office refused interview requests, a spokesperson said that the harm done to Megan is key to the case. Known as a "tortious act," the legal argument is generally the basis for civil lawsuits, but can be used as the basis of criminal prosecution. In this case, the tortious act elevates the unauthorized access charges from misdemeanors to felonies, FTI's Rasch said.

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.