'Aaron's Law' Proponents Talk About Restraining Prosecutorial Abuse


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After open access activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide while facing federal prosecution for downloading academic journals from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Rep. Zoe Lofgren began crafting "Aaron's Law."  The goal of the law was to amend the vaguely written Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The alleged "anti-hacking" law is written in such a way to allow for federal prosecutions and potentially large prison sentences for things like violating a web site's terms of use.

Today at Wired, Lofgren and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced the final wording of the law and talked about their aims:

Vagueness is the core flaw of the CFAA. As written, the CFAA makes it a federal crime to access a computer without authorization or in a way that exceeds authorization. Confused by that? You're not alone. Congress never clearly described what this really means. As a result, prosecutors can take the view that a person who violates a website's terms of service or employer agreement should face jail time.

So lying about one's age on Facebook, or checking personal email on a work computer, could violate this felony statute. This flaw in the CFAA allows the government to imprison Americans for a violation of a non-negotiable, private agreement that is dictated by a corporation. Millions of Americans — whether they are of a digitally native or dial-up generation — routinely submit to legal terms and agreements every day when they use the Internet. Few have the time or the ability to read and completely understand lengthy legal agreements.

Another flaw in the CFAA is redundant provisions that enable a person to be punished multiple times … for the same crime. These charges can be stacked one on top of another, resulting in the threat of higher cumulative fines and jail time for the exact same violation.

This allows prosecutors to bully defendants into accepting a deal in order to avoid facing a multitude of charges from a single, solitary act. It also plays a significant role in sentencing. The ambiguity of a provision meant to toughen sentencing for repeat offenders of the CFAA may in fact make it possible for defendants to be sentenced based on what should be prior convictions — but were nothing more than multiple convictions for the same crime.

The text of the legislation can be read here (pdf).

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  1. Might this buck the trend that laws named after dead people are horrendous?

    1. No. Unless it removes their qualified immunity then it doesn't do shit.

      1. Let me expand on that: employers can be sued successfully if they fire someone and it's not consistent with their treatment of other employees. We can debate the merits of that later, but the legal principle exists. But when a prosecutor maliciously prosecutes someone inconsistent with how he treats others of that person's station, alleged criminality or any protected class because of their politics (Gibson Guitars), their views on IP (Aaron Swartz) or media pressure (George Zimmerman), they can cackle like the dude in Lethal Weapon 2 and say "qualified immunity" without fear of Mel Gibson or Danny Glover revoking it.

        To me that's just fucking wrong.

        1. Zimmerman's prosecutor had issues with people defending themselves before he came along:

          In May 2012, Corey prosecuted 31-year-old Marissa Alexander and obtained a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. Alexander had defended herself by firing a gun in the direction of her abusive husband, a man who admitted to past incidents of domestic violence, including a 2009 incident that put Alexander in the hospital.[28] Alexander had no prior criminal record and was in possession of a court-issued protective order against her husband at the time of the attack. She was first offered a plea bargain of a 3 year sentence. Upon turning it down, she was prosecuted by Corey resulting in a conviction and sentence that has been called harsh.[29] Critics of the prosecution include U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown who accused Corey of being overzealous,[30] and labeled the case "institutional racism."

        2. In 2009, Ronald Thompson, a 65-year old Army veteran fired two shots into the ground to scare off teenagers who were demanding entry into his friend's house in Keystone Heights, Florida.[/b][31] \Corey prosecuted Thompson for aggravated assault, and after he refused a plea agreement with a three-year prison sentence, won a conviction that would carry a mandatory 20-year sentence under Florida's 10-20-Life statute. The trial judge, Fourth Circuit Judge John Skinner called the 20-year sentence "a crime in itself" and declared the 10-20-Life statute unconstitutional. Skinner gave Thompson three years instead.[31]
          Angela Corey appealed the 3-year sentence and won, sending Thompson to prison for 20 years.[31]
          In June 2012, Fourth Circuit Judge Don Lester granted Thompson a new trial, ruling that the jury instructions had been flawed in his original trial regarding the justifiable use of deadly or non-deadly force given the circumstances of the case.[32] Thompson has been freed and awaits a decision by Angela Corey's office on a new trial.

          1. Oh, Angela Corey is a cunt of the highest order. I can't remember which circle of hell she will end up in (Pro Lib could probablt best answer that as he is a fellow member of the Florida Bar Ass), but I'm sure her place is already booked.

          2. Hey...if you were as ugly as Angela Corey you'd want to hurt people too!

        3. If I could make one change in how the world is run, yes, immunity would go away.

          If I had a second wish, prosecutors would be barred from seeking any other political office. If you want to be an officer of the court, and seek justice, then do that. If you want to (ab)use your office as a springboard to be governor, then no, that wouldn't be allowed.

  2. So somebody is working on tightening up one law, which may or may not actually happen. It cheers prosecutors to know that, should this law be fixed, thousands of other "flexibly" written laws and regulations will remain in force as tools for prosecutorial hounding of anyone the government or one of its officials dislikes.


    1. ^This.

      Getting excited about the clarifying of one of thousands of vague laws is much ado about nothing. As sloopy pointed out, qualified immunity is the real evil here. It should be removed or severely restricted, and not just for prosecutors; doubly so for cops.

  3. Please, please, please, don't name it after him.
    It's not him that is the problem. Name it the 'we're gonna stop sleazy government actions' law.

    1. Why would people think he's smart because he's Indian?

      1. It's an inherited trait. The dumb ones all got killed by Jackson.

        1. Jindal is not that kind of Indian

          1. Right. He's one of the smart ones.

    2. Let me get this straight - Rand Paul says that Jim Crow is an example of why one should be skeptical of democracy, and that proves he has "white supremacist leanings?"

      1. It's all code. Saying the opposite of something a racist politician would say is a dog whistle.

  4. OT: why no Reason post on the defeated farm bill?

    Does this defeat mean no monies for the parasites of the salt of the Earth?

    1. Lots of the money appropriated in the farm bill goes to food stamps, so there's plenty in it for urban benefit snafflers as well.

    2. I haven't checked, but I thought it was sent back to committee?
      IOWs, it's alive and kicking and just waiting for more sludge to be attached.

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