filed under Social Justice
BY Beth Comery
David Scharfenberg has a wonderful piece in this week’s Providence Phoenix — “Weeks after Aaron Swartz’s death, a friend takes action” — updating us on our friend Dave Segal*. Prior to his death Aaron Swartz had been targeted by the Justice Department and was facing a potential 35 years in prison for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Not surprisingly, his activist friends and family are channeling their energies towards fixing this law so that penalties might more accurately reflect the nature of the violation.
Swartz’s friends and allies say CFAA is a blunt relic of the pre-Internet era that threatened the hacker with disproportionate punishment and helped push him to his death. And now Segal, who forged a partnership with Swartz that outlasted the Congressional campaign, finds himself near the center of an effort to overhaul the law. . .
There are several critiques of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Courts have interpreted CFAA such that a violation of a product or service’s terms of service can trigger criminal penalties. The law also allows prosecution for the sort of small-bore technical workarounds — altering how a program is used for instance — that is standard fare for hackers. And it focuses too heavily on felony penalties, critics say, with little room for misdemeanors.
Our personal thanks go to Mr. Scharfenberg for helping to spread the word. If you want to help support the passage of “Aaron’s Law” go to “Demand Justice for Aaron Swartz” at Demand Progress.
*Former Democratic Rhode Island State Representative David Segal was a co-founder of the Providence Daily Dose and now serves as executive director of Demand Progress, the progressive advocacy group he founded with Aaron.