CNET is reporting that the U.S. Department of Justice will make a statement to Congress tomorrow supporting a controversial component of a computer hacking law that makes breaking the rules on websites like Facebook and YouTube a felony. The problem is with a specific section of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act dealing with the use of computers to "exceed authorized access" of websites — the DOJ thinks that a website's terms of service agreement determines what's "authorized." Critics say that the DOJ's interpretation vastly oversteps the original purpose of the law, which was intended to nab hackers and thieves, by making it a crime for a person to violate a website's often dense and obtuse terms of service agreement — which means that doing something like using a fake name on Facebook could land you a conviction. Opponents like the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation say that the law effectively equips private corporations with the power to make federal law with their terms of service.
The DOJ obviously won't be able to convict every violator — which could include everyone in the U.S. with an internet connection — but it's certainly frightening to think that unlucky individuals could be convicted for something as trivial as lying about their weight on a dating website. The law was already used earlier this year to convict a woman who used a fake MySpace account to harass a 13-year-old teenage neighbor (who later committed suicide), and while the conviction was thrown out, it serves as evidence that the DOJ is willing to use the law to convict individuals for TOS violations. Watch your back, Salman Rushdie.