EFF Defends Lori Drew


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and several other groups have filed an amicus brief in defense of Lori Drew, the woman whose pseudonymous Myspace bullying led to the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier. Drew was indicted in May under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), for violating Myspace's terms of service agreement by posing as a teenage boy in order to harass Meier.

In addition to questioning the CFAA's applicability to Drew's actions, the EFF argues (pdf) that prosecuting Drew for misusing Myspace would then make it possible to prosecute anyone who has ever used the InterWebz to anonymously harass someone:

The EFF says that a MySpace user doesn't gain unauthorized access to MySpace's servers by disregarding the ToS, which is what the DoJ's reading of the CFAA would criminalize. Additionally, the groups argue that the legislative history of the CFAA supports the view that it's meant to prevent trespass and theft on computers or computer networks, not improper motives or use. The EFF and CDT believe that holding Drew criminally liable for violating MySpace's ToS would be an "extraordinary and dangerous extension of federal criminal law," as it would turn practically everyone into federal criminals.

They point out that even checking out the popular dating site Match.com for the mere purpose of research into this case would have turned the brief's author into a criminal, as she is married and the ToS prohibits those who are not single or separated from using the site. "[T]he Government's theory would attach criminal penalties to minors under the age of 18 who use the Google search engine, as well as to many individuals who legitimately exercise their First Amendment rights to speak anonymously online," adds the brief. Although the groups agree that Meier's death was a tragedy and that there is a heavy desire to hold Drew accountable for her actions, they believe the First Amendment rights of citizens outweigh the "overbroad" interpretation of the CFAA in order to prosecute her, and urge the court to dismiss the indictment.

The spotlight on anonymous Internet harrassment is growing bigger and brighter. As has been the case with Jason Fortuny (and distasteful exercises of the First Amendment in general), the scorn that journalists, government officials, and the general public have heaped upon Drew's head is punishment enough. So instead of wasting time, money, and energy on attempts at dragging such spats into the court system, why not encourage vigilantism? You know, turn the tables by posting the names and contact info of the InterWebz' most notorious villains? Users with some sort of ethical compass can unmask these creeps in forums and confront them in the same public spaces that they use to bully peaceable users. System administrators for sites like WordPress and Blogger could go after accounts that contain excessively malicious material—Blogger already deletes spam blogs. (Disclaimer: I'm not crazy about that last idea, but I vastly prefer it to having my web writing under the jurisdiction of the CFAA.)

I wrote about Jason Fortuny's involvement in the Meier story here. Mike Godwin wrote about "community standards" and the Internet for reason here.