The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School is a leader in the study of the law and policy around the Internet and other emerging technologies.
Patent trolls — companies that assert patents as a business model instead of creating products — have been in the news lately. This is hardly surprising, given that troll lawsuits now make up the majority of new patent cases. And the litigation is only the tip of the iceberg: patent trolls send out hundreds of demand letters for each suit filed in court. At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we have been following this issue closely and are working hard to bring reform to fix the patent mess.
The Hacker Manifesto lauds the world of the electron and the switch, where the talented are treated equally and the values of curiosity and exploration reign supreme. Yet studying computers, network security, and programming flaws can be a crime or civil offense. Just two examples: In Sony v. Hotz (2011), a case that eventually settled, Sony claimed that researchers who studied the way their own game consoles worked violated the CFAA.
Law professor and cybercrime expert Orin Kerr published a proposal to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to address the overcriminalization that he has been at the forefront of identifying and combatting. His current proposal, which very simply but comprehensively addresses a number of problems with the CFAA, is here.
By focusing purely on whether the service operator implements technological access barriers, the proposal risks a similar problem to the one that the current statute has, giving server owners plenary authority to criminalize the way members of the public interact with information made available online, but through “technological access barriers” rather than merely terms of service and employee agreements.
Yesterday, Representative Zoe Lofgren introduced on Reddit a bill to improve the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in the wake of Aaron Swartz's suicide during the pendency of his prosecution for violating various provisions of that law and of the Wire Fraud Act. I've attached
Law Professor and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act expert Orin Kerr wrote today in his usual thorough and well-informed fashion about the legal claims in Aaron Swartz's case. While his analysis of the law is, as usual, spot on, I nevertheless disagree with its treatment of Aaron's case as routine and, by implication, unremarkable. I am in the process of explaining why , but want to address here a few of Orin's arguments.
Over the weekend, I learned that Aaron Swartz had taken his own life. I cried, and am still crying, for him, his family, for the close friends who loved him, and for our community. We lost a rare and special person, one who did so much in his short life to make the world a better place. Any do-gooder, including myself, could be proud were we to accomplish as much. We don't know what else he would have acheived were he to have lived. But I admit that I also cried for myself, because I felt guilty that I didn't do more to help Aaron in his criminal case. This post is about part of that challenge, the challenge to improve computer crime laws, and the criminal justice system more generally. Hopefully in the end, there'll be something that I, and you, can do about it.
Every so often in human history, something new comes along that warrants a celebration, and that deserves its own holiday. That’s why I propose we celebrate “Internet Freedom Day” later this month.