“Aaron's Law” Would Tweak Hacking Law for Late Reddit Activist

A Silicon Valley congresswoman took to Reddit this week to propose tweaking a computer fraud law used to prosecute Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide last week and had faced federal hacking charges.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) not only posted a draft of "Aaron's Law" on her website. She also posted a link on Reddit's blog about her proposal to change the 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (PDF) by excluding terms of service violations.

The legislation aims at helping "prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users" by seeking to limit the "broad scope" of the act and the wire fraud statute, Lofgren wrote.

Lofgren argues the government inappropriately used vague language in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to apply Swartz's alleged actions to wire fraud.

"Using the law in this way could criminalize many everyday activities and allow for outlandishly severe penalties," she wrote in the Reddit post.

Her proposal is a narrow one: It would amend the CFAA to exclude terms of service violations, so that it would no longer be a crime to violate a term of service by, for instance, using a fake name on Facebook or downloading more material than is allowed.

"His family’s statement about this speaks volumes about the inappropriate efforts undertaken by the U.S. government," Lofgren wrote on the Reddit post.

Swartz's father on Tuesday blamed the government for his son's death, arguing the feds "hounded" him.

"He was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles," Robert Swartz said Tuesday in Highland Park, Ill., as his son was laid to rest at the family's suburban Chicago synagogue.

"There’s no way to reverse the tragedy of Aaron’s death, but we can work to prevent a repeat of the abuses of power he experienced," Lofgren said in her Reddit post.

Swartz, who help create Reddit and RSS, the technology behind blogs, podcasts and other web-based subscription services, was found dead on Friday in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment.

He faced decades in prison amid federal charges he illegally gained access to articles from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer archive. His family blamed his death on "prosecutorial overreach."

Prosecutors alleged that he had violated JSTOR's terms of service by using automated programs and downloaded more articles than allowed. Lofgren's bill, if it passes, would forbid these allegations from being criminal charges.

In fact, JSTOR had urged federal prosecutors to drop their case, which hinged on Swartz violating the terms of service agreement with JSTOR for downloading too many articles at once.

Swartz had contended that JSTOR's fees limited access to academic work produced at American schools.

JSTOR announced this week that it would make more than 4.5 million articles publicly available for free.

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