Crowdsourced "Aaron's Law" Taking Shape to Restrain Overprosecution in Computer Cases

Another round of review on Reddit


California Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) turned to Reddit for help in mid-January in crafting "Aaron's Law," federal legislation intended to change the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act so that simply violating a Web site or Internet service provider's "terms of service" is no longer automatically considered a crime.

The law is named after Aaron Swartz, the open access activist and programming genius who committed suicide in January at the age of 26. He was facing federal charges and possible prison time by the Department of Justice for using his computer skills to download tons of academic journals from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Department of Justice attempted to browbeat Swartz into a plea bargain that would put him in prison for only a couple of months. But they held over his head 13 different felonies and, according to his lawyer, threatened him with up to 8 years in prison if he were convicted.

Lofgren is trying to take away some of the prosecution's tools for abuse. After her first post on Reddit, Lofgren got feedback from the likes of Lawrence Lessig at Creative Commons and Marcia Hoffman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She now has a new draft of the bill up on Reddit and is seeking more feedback.

Read the bill here (pdf). A look at the changes indicates that her goal is to eliminate language that refers to users who "exceed authorized access" and require taking or altering information in violation of access rights in order to qualify as a federal crime.

Does Lofgren's law have any legs? We'll have to see. Several Democratic lawmakers (and one Republican in the form of Calif. Rep. Darrell Issa) attended a memorial for Swartz in Washington, D.C., Monday. Issa and Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden both spoke.

This isn't Lofgren's first effort to use Reddit to crowdsource legislation. Back in November, Reason Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern Rachel Moran took note of Lofgren turning to Reddit for suggestions on crafting legislation on dealing with domain name seizures.