Aaron's Law Proposed in Honor of Late Reddit Co-Founder Swartz

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The law used to prosecute Internet freedom activist and hacker Aaron Swartz could be amended in the near future - in the late Reddit co-founder's honor.

At least if Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) wants.

Swartz Pic

Lofgren posted on Reddit Tuesday evening a proposal to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, under which Aaron was being charged.

"We should prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users," Lofgren wrote Wednesday on a post, appropriately, on Reddit.

Swartz committed suicide Friday at the age of 26.

Lofgren called her proposal "Aaron's Law."

The core of Lofgren's proposal is to make the violation of an online service’s user agreement (commonly referred to as "terms of service") a non-criminal activity.

She underscored the importance of reforming a law that dates back to 1986 and one that's being harshly critiqued in the case of Swartz and many others.

Writes Lofgren:

"The government was able to bring such disproportionate charges against Aaron because of the broad scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the wire fraud statute."

"It looks like the government used the vague wording of those laws to claim that violating a service’s user agreement or terms of service is a violation of the CFAA and the wire fraud statute."

After Swartz's death on Friday, his friends and supporters pointed fingers at what some consider his prosecutor's overzealous behavior at his expense.

Lawyer and prominent Internet thinker Lawrence Lessig likened it to "bullying." Swartz was facing a maximum of 35 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.

Marcia Hoffmann, a senior staff attorney for the digital rights advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, criticized the CFFA in a post on Monday.

The key to Swartz's case, Hoffmann says, was that the prosecution was accusing him of gaining unauthorized access to MIT's network to download scholarly articles.

In its present state, CFAA makes it a felony to access a computer network "without authorization" or in a manner that "exceeds authorized access."

"Unfortunately, the law doesn't clearly explain what a lack of 'authorization' actually means," Hoffmann wrote in the post, and therein lies the problem.

"Creative prosecutors have taken advantage of this confusion to craft criminal charges that aren't really about hacking a computer but instead target other behavior."

But Lofgren's proposal might not be enough to solve this issue.

"It’s a great first step,” Hoffman told Forbes. "But if it’s trying to make sure what happened to Aaron can’t happen to someone else, it needs to do more."

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