Congresswoman Names Law After Dead Guy, But Wait! This One Might Be Good!

Aaron Swartz's death inspires effort to scale back federal authority


California Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) appears to be trying to upturn the common (at least among libertarian circles) wisdom that laws written in memorial to somebody who died tragically are generally awful.

As noted on Reason 24/7, Lofgren is proposing what she's calling "Aaron's Law," after Aaron Swartz, the young programming genius who committed suicide while facing federal prosecution for his antics downloading and "liberating" huge numbers of academic journal papers at MIT.

But to say she's proposing a new law is not quite accurate, and that's what makes her efforts different from typical memorial legislation. She's proposing amending an existing federal law to – get this – make it less powerful. I know!

Specifically, Lofgren has posted on Reddit draft legislation to change the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act so that the "fraud and abuse" it is supposed to fight no longer results in violations of a web site's or Internet service provider's "terms of use" being considered a federal crime. These "terms of use" violations were used to by the feds to hammer down more charges on Swartz, even though simply violating terms of use might not necessarily cause any actual economic harm. I'm not a legal expert, but Lofgren's proposed changes appear to require that the accused actually obtain or alter information he or she is not entitled to in order to constitute a crime. The feds would no longer be able prosecute just for violating a site's term of use. But feel free to contribute to Lofgren's Reddit thread, as she's looking for feedback.

A memorial law that actually tries to reduce governmental authority – will wonders never cease? And can we spread it to federal drug policies?