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November 29, 2011

The Department of Justice Says You’re A Criminal

MEDIA ALERT: Downsize DC’s Jim Babka will guest host a radio talk show tomorrow (Wednesday). Details are in the P.S.

Have you ever checked a “Terms of Service” agreement without reading it? Have you ever been less-than-truthful in an email or social network?

Then you may be a criminal. At least, that’s what the Justice Department claims, and they want to strengthen the law to ensure that they have the power to prosecute you.

That’s why I sent a letter to my Representative and Senators to resist this power-grab and protect our freedom to use the Internet.

I hope you do the same, and you may borrow from or copy this letter…

I am disturbed that the Obama Administration wants to strengthen the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to prosecute violators of “Terms of Service” (ToS) agreements on the Internet.

The CFAA was intended to outlaw hacking and identity theft. But its vague language has led three federal courts to rule that employees can be prosecuted merely for violating their employer’s “acceptable use” policy. The feds also prosecuted a woman under the CFAA for violating MySpace’s Terms of Service. (http://www.cdt.org/files/pdfs/CFAA_signon_ltr_2.pdf)

The Administration wants to go further, and make ToS violations explicitly illegal under federal law. There are at least five reasons to oppose this…

1. It criminalizes activities that would not be criminal in the physical world. You can assume a false identity at a party without breaking a law, but using a pseudonym on the Internet could be a felony.

2. The innocent will be unjustly punished. If someone is falsely accused of a real crime like hacking, prosecutors will also charge him or her with ToS violations in order to secure a conviction. 

3. Since almost everyone is guilty of ToS violations, the law could be used by U.S. Attorneys to wage personal or political vendettas.

4. It threatens the First Amendment because it could be deployed to prosecute individuals who criticize the Administration or Congress in comments sections or forums.

5. A ToS is a PRIVATE agreement, and Internet hosts are free to ban violators. Trolls are often banned on websites. Fake profiles on social networks are often deleted. Employees who violate agreements and use their work computer for fantasy football can be fired.

The Justice Department claims it wouldn’t have the time or resources to go after trivial ToS violations, such as lying about one’s age on a dating site. And yet it calls “worrisome” an amendment by Sens. Franken, Grassley, and Lee that would protect most people from ToS prosecutions. (http://bit.ly/vMcl8v)

Criminalizing ToS violations won’t prevent serious computer crimes, but it WILL give the feds tremendous powers to abuse and harass harmless Internet users. Please support the Franken-Grassley-Lee amendment and provide other safeguards to protect the American people from an out-of-control Justice Department. 

END LETTER

You can send your letter using DownsizeDC.org’s Educate the Powerful System.

We urge you to encourage your friends to take action and protect Internet freedom. You can “Like” and “Tweet” this post on our blog.

James Wilson
Policy Research Director
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.

P.S. Tomorrow (Wednesday), Jim Babka returns to the guest-hosting seat of Jerry Hughes on his show Straight Talk.

Jim will be joined by Michael Boldin, the founder and executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center.

Boldin’s group was attacked in a “report” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on their Hatewatch blog. Is the Tenth Amendment Center a hater (racist) organization? Is this just an accident or misunderstanding, outside of the normal behavior of the SPLC?

Jim and Michael will talk about the Tenth Amendment Center, and also about the group’s Nullify Now tour. 

You can listen live at 2:07 PM Eastern (1:07 PM Central, 12:07 PM Mountain, and 11:07 PM Pacific).

To hear the show on the web, or to find a local station, visit the network’s website.

Affiliates can be found in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Oregon.

If your comment is off-topic for this post, please email us at feedback@downsizedc.org

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