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Friday, 29 March 2013

Computer Law Used Against Swartz May Get Tougher

The most controversial computer law in the United States could finally be updated — and it’s the exact opposite of what activists like Aaron Swartz have been fighting for.
Advocates have urged Congress to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act since way before 26-year-old hacker Aaron Swartz committed suicide in January while awaiting trial for a CFAA case that could have sent him to prison for decades and since then petitions to push for a new CFAA have come and gone. Members of both the US Senate and the House of Representatives have said that the legislation is too strict and needs adjustment, and meanwhile hackers like Andrew Auernheimer have had their lives turned upside down thanks to the government’s arguably asinine interpretations of the CFAA.
Just this week, though, some real talk of an update to the CFAA finally started to surface. A draft began circulating on the Web on Monday that suggests Capitol Hill lawmakers might be looking to finally update legislation that’s been called draconian, archaic and drastically in need of serious change.
A screenshot from scribd.com
Lawmakers are indeed in talk to revise the CFAA, but not in a way that warrants a round of applause from hackers, advocates and activists. A discussion bill being passed around would actually make the CFAA even stricter, essentially allowing the government to go after a multitude of not-so-malicious computer users and sentence them to lengthier prison stints than what’s already on the books.
The House Judiciary Committee has started circulating a draft that would be used to update the CFAA in a number of aspects, but little would let so-called hackers off the hook for the questionable crimes that federal prosecutors have used to go after the likes of Swartz — who faced 35 years for downloading academic articles — or Auernheimer, who was sentenced to 41 months last week for discovering a security flaw on the servers of telecom giants AT&T.
If the proposed revisions to the CFAA are approved in Congress, not only will penalties be more severe but simply discussing alleged computer crimes could be grounds for a felony conviction. The proposal involves extending maximum sentences for CFAA violations, grouping some forms of hacking with racketeering and even criminalizing the “conspiracy and attempt” of computer crimes that never come to fruition.


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