Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Are You A Teenager Who Reads News Online? According to the Justice Department, You May Be a Criminal

Dave Maass and Trevor Timm

During his first term, President Barack Obama declared October 2009 to be “National Information Literacy Awareness Month,” emphasizing that, for students, learning to navigate the online world is as important a skill as reading, writing and arithmetic. It was a move that echoed his predecessor's strong support of global literacy—such as reading newspapers—most notably through First Lady Laura Bush's advocacy.

Yet, disturbingly, the Departments of Justice (DOJ) of both the Bush and Obama administrations have embraced an expansive interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) that would literally make it a crime for many kids to read the news online. And it’s the main reason why the law must be reformed.

As we’ve explained previously, in multiple cases the DOJ has taken the position that a violation of a website’s Terms of Service or an employer’s Terms of Use policy can be treated as a criminal act.

And the House Judiciary Committee has floated a proposal that makes the DOJ’s position law, making it a crime to access a website for any “impermissible purpose.” For a number of reasons, including the requirements of theChildren’s Online Privacy Protection Act, many news sites have terms of service that prohibit minors from using their interactive services and sometimes even visiting their websites.

Take, for example, the Hearst Corporation’s family of publications. If you read the terms of use for the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, or Popular Mechanics websites, you’ll find this language, screamed in all-caps:

In the DOJ’s world, this means anyone under 18 who reads a Hearst newspaper online could hypothetically face jail time. But Hearst’s publications aren’t the only ones with overly restrictive usage terms. U-T San Diego and the Miami Herald have similar policies. Even NPR is guilty, saying teenagers can’t access their “services” (including the site, NPR podcasts and the media player) without a permission slip:
If you are between the ages of 13 and 18, you may browse the NPR Services or register for email newsletters or other features of the NPR Services (excluding the NPR Community) with the consent of your parent(s) or guardian(s), so long as you do not submit any User Materials.
Some sites must have recognized the problem and crafted their policies to only forbid users under the age of 13. These include the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Arizona Republic. uses this wording:
By using or attempting to use the Site or Services, you certify that you are at least 13 years of age or other required greater age for certain features and meet any other eligibility and residency requirements of the Site.
This means that inquisitive 12-year-olds who visit to learn about current events would be, by default, misrepresenting their ages. That's criminal by DOJ standards and would be explicitly illegal under the House Judiciary Committee's proposal.

We’d like to say that we’re being facetious, but, unfortunately, the Justice Department has already demonstrated its willingness to pursue CFAA to absurd extremes. Luckily, the Ninth Circuit rejected the government’s arguments, concluding that, under such an ruling, millions of unsuspecting citizens would suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

As Judge Alex Kozinski so aptly wrote: "Under the government’s proposed interpretation of the CFAA...describing yourself as 'tall, dark and handsome,' when you’re actually short and homely, will earn you a handsome orange jumpsuit."

And it’s no excuse to say that the vast majority of these cases will never be prosecuted. As the Ninth Circuit explained, “Ubiquitous, seldom-prosecuted crimes invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” Instead of pursuing only suspects of actual crimes, it opens the door for prosecutors to go after people because the government doesn’t like them.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign the Justice Department has given up on this interpretation outside the Ninth and Fourth Circuits, which is why the Professor Tim Wu in the New Yorker recently called the CFAA “the most outrageous criminal law you’ve never heard of.”

The potential criminalization of terms of service is a prime reason that Congress needs to overhaul CFAA and it’s certainly why the House Judiciary Committee should abandon the seemingly DOJ-drafted bill it floated recently and instead sit down with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Darrell Issa, and others to negotiate real reform.

Are you a minor with a thirst for information? You, and your parents who vote, should together tell Congress to fix CFAA.

For the latest in electronic privacy news, please visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation 


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Anonymous said...

Use your computer to play Grand Theft Auto or Halo or other insane killer games.........the US military wants good men like you!

Use your computer to read about government and politics...........

PS Good of you guys to blame both Bush and Obama....all the great crimes involve BOTH parties.

Anonymous said...

Aren't the news corporations responsible for prohibiting use by those under 18? Isn't this a form of corporate tyranny and sets up govt to monitor these absurd terms?

There are two basic forms of tyranny: corporate tyranny and govt tyranny. The only political philosophy I am aware of that opposes both
is left (or socialist) libertarianism, which proposes a 3d way between private and public tyranny: employee owned and controlled enterprise, independent of the government, rejects both the authoritarian nature of corporate governance and the government overreach when enforcing absurd rules created by the corporations.

This philosophy is banned from the corporate media and demonized by the rightwing punditry (smacks of communism: worker-owned and managed business). When viewpoints and choices are censored by the media and the textbooks, we have restricted freedom, choked it into a narrow spectrum which excludes the most creative alternatives to 2 forms of tyranny, which when joined (as when corporations dominate the political process with their wealth and propaganda) forms what Mussolini called "fascism...the merging of the interests of the state (power) and the corporations (wealth).
To describe this merging, he invented the word corporatocracy, which is exactly what we have today.

Wikipedia has a decent article on socialist libertarianism, which was the original libertarian movement, rejecting both state and corporate despostism. Later, the rightwing hijacked the concept and became an anti-government pro-corporate movement. Socialist libertarian grew out of 18th Century socialist-anarchist movements and stood up against the Marxian concept of capturing the state (the tool of the ruling class) in a "dictatorship of the proletariat."

So socialist libertarianism is a revolt against both capitalist tyranny, state tyranny, and the Marxian hybrid which invents a new elite to to
use the state to bring about radical social change.

Left libertarianism can be described simply as the extension of democracy (ie self-government) to both the political and economic spheres. The state hates this concept; the corporations hate it, and the media makes sure you never hear of any other alternative than the 2 party system, which is a system dominated by the corporations and various political/military,media elites.

There is another way but you have to look for it.....most people have never heard of it, so effective is the censorship imposed by the corporate media.

Famous left libertarians include the late Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Richard Wolfe. None are allowed anywhere near a "mainstream" media outlet, but you can find them on the internet.

Warning: if you are not 18, do not look into left libertarian philosophy. It will mark you as an independent thinker, the most dangerous force to threaten both govt and corporate elites.

Anonymous said...

Both parties are the same?

The vote to authorize the criminal invasion of Iraq got a huge majority of Republicans (263 for, 7 against) and a minority of Democrats (111 for, 147 against). 98% of REpubs for war; 40% of Democrats.

If Democrats had been in power, there would have been no Iraq War!
I criticize the Dems on many issues, but when it comes to war and peace, there is a huge difference. Pretending it doesn't exist does not stand up to the facts.

Anonymous said...

Both parties the same.......

Libya and Syria are dirty filthy wars.........owned lock stock and barrel by DEMOCRATS.

Stop chirping about Bush in Iraq 10 years ago. Democrats enabled that war and ignored their voters who wanted Bush impeached for war crimes like torture. Now Democrats do that too.
At least the greasy evil war loving Republicans admit that they love war.....more honest than Democrats who deny reality.
Have a lovely day.

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