Feeds

US anti-hacking law turns computer users into criminals

Former prosecutor calls for change to CFAA

The Power of One Infographic

A commonly invoked anti-hacking law is so overbroad that it criminalizes conduct as innocuous as using a fake user name on Facebook or fibbing about your weight in a Match.com profile, one of the nation's most respected legal authorities has said.

George Washington University Law School Professor Orin S. Kerr said he hopes the critique will spur changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a law that's frequently invoked against people who exceed authorized access of websites and computers. He released written testimony (PDF) on Monday, one day before he's scheduled to appear before a US House of Representatives subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

"The current version of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) poses a threat to the civil liberties of the millions of Americans who use computers and the internet," said Kerr, who is a former prosecutor who handled hacking cases. "As interpreted by the Justice Department, many if not most computer users violate the CFAA on a regular basis. Any of them could face arrest and criminal prosecution."

The CFAA punishes people who intentionally exceed authorized access to obtain information from a protected computer. Kerr said exceeding authorization is as simple as violating a single term of service, such as one imposed by Match.com that forbids users from providing "inaccurate, misleading or false information" to any other member. A user who fibs about her weight or his height and gets access to another member's profile could well run afoul of the provision, Kerr said.

"The statute does not require that the information be valuable or private," he wrote. "Any information of any kind is enough. Routine and entirely innocent conduct such as visiting a website, clicking on a hyperlink, or opening an email generally will suffice."

The critique comes three years after federal prosecutors charged a Missouri mother for using a fraudulent MySpace profile to taunt a teenage girl who later committed suicide. Lori Drew was eventually found guilty, but the conviction was later overturned after the judge criticized the CFAA for criminalizing what would otherwise be a simple breach-of-contract claim in a civil case.

Kerr recommended that the CFAA be amended to clarify that exceeding authorized access doesn't include terms of service. An alternative statutory fix includes narrowing the law to cover only information that, when obtained in excess of authorization, is "associated with significant harms." ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
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.
Reducing security risks from open source software
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.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.