New Draft Of Old Law Could Jail Internet Users For Longer Periods Than Murderers

Back in 1984 (very appropriate year) the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act was introduced to the American people as a way to reduce hacking into government computers and those of financial institutions, as well. Simply stated, it “bans ‘unauthorized access’ of computer”. But according to Tim Wu of The New Yorker, “Noone really knows what that means.”

It’s not banning of “unauthorized access” that has everyone puzzled. It’s the punishments for said crime that has everyone up in arms.

Under it’s current structure, if convicted, the perpetrator faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. Doesn’t sound so bad, huh?

Enter Aaron Swartz.

aaron swartz

Swartz, was accused of illegally tapping into the digital journal archive JSTOR while visiting MIT. He was faceing four charges under section (a)(4) of the CFAA, at five years per charge, for a possible total of 20 years in prison.

Attorneys and even some legislators are calling for the reduction of these penalties or even removing them altogether.

The new draft of the CFAA however, calls for increasing the maximum number of years for each charge under section (a)(4) to 20 years. Under this proposal, Swartz could have faced 80 YEARS IN PRISON…For a computer crime.

In theory, one could commit manslaughter and be out of prison before someone convicted of violating the CFAA.

According to Among the many additions, the new CFAA draft expands the number of ways a person could be found guilty by punishing anyone who “conspires to commit” violations in the same way as those that have already “completed” the offense. It also adds computer crimes as a form of “racketeering activity,” to allow the Department of Justice to hit computer criminals with further charges in court. But once you’re found guilty, the new CFAA endorses more severe punishments for any offenders by raising the maximum sentences available for certain violations“.


“But what’s perhaps most troubling is how the new CFAA bill actually expands the law to include accessing information for an “impermissible purpose,” which means even if you have the right to access the information in the first place, it’s still considered a crime if someone deems you are misusing your access in some way”.

Here is a link so you can read the new draft for yourself.

From what I can gather, The House is going to try to sneak this in under the radar, next month. This is a very scary bill and many lawmakers are REALLY hoping that the American people will, again, not be paying attention so that they can get this through without a fuss being made.

This type of legislating is becoming all too common these days. These people do NOT like it when their proposals are leaked to the American people BEFORE a bill is voted on. The fear is that they’ll actually have to answer for their treachery. And make no mistake, that is precisely what this type of behavior is.

Contact your legislator and let them know that this will NOT be snuck by the American people and that you ARE paying attention. Remember, this is how the National Defense Authorization Act came into being; Under the Radar.