Cyberbullying Sentencing Scheduled for May 18


On Friday I mentioned the Lori Drew case in connection with the egregious Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act. It turns out that Drew, who was convicted last fall of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 by participating in the MySpace prank that seems to have precipitated Meier's suicide, is scheduled to be sentenced the week after next by U.S. District Judge George Wu. Although she could face up to a year in jail on each of three misdemeanor counts, her presentencing report recommends probation and a $5,000 fine. Drew's defense attorney, H. Dean Seward, thinks probation is a fair result but objects to the fine, which he says his client cannot afford. U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien has not responded to the report yet.

Seward quite rightly objects to letting Meier's mother speak at the sentencing hearing, noting that her daughter's suicide is not part of Drew's offenses. When O'Brien twisted a law aimed at hackers to punish a widely reviled woman for cruel conduct that happened to be perfectly legal, he made MySpace the victim instead of Meier, saying Drew ran afoul of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by violating the social networking site's terms of service. (The jury deadlocked on a felony charge under the law, which accused Drew of conspiring to "access a computer without authorization" and "obtain information from that computer to further a tortious act, namely, intentional infliction of emotional distress.") Wu still has not ruled on a defense motion for a directed acquittal, based on the argument that Drew never saw MySpace's terms of service, let alone agreed to them, and therefore cannot be guilty of unauthorized access, an intentional act. If the courts reject that argument, anyone who inadvertently violates a website's rules could be charged with a federal crime.

More Reason coverage of the case here.