Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California has appeared on Reddit to propose "Aaron's Law," a new bill that seeks to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the broad anti-hacking legislation used by prosecutors in their case against recently-deceased information activist Aaron Swartz. The proposal represents the first significant response from a member of Congress in the aftermath of Swartz's suicide, which many — including his family and copyright reform advocate Lawrence Lessig — have at least partially attributed to heavy-handed and disproportionate prosecution.
"We should prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users," she writes, calling attention to the broad scope of the CFAA which allows Terms of Service and network use violations to become the basis for federal charges, as occurred in Swartz's case. "Using the law in this way could criminalize many everyday activities and allow for outlandishly severe penalties."
"Using the law in this way could criminalize many everyday activities and allow for outlandishly severe penalties."
Swartz was federally indicted in July of 2011 after he allegedly entered a maintenance closet at MIT and used a Python script to rapidly download thousands of academic papers from the JSTOR database. Despite the fact that JSTOR and MIT dropped their civil case against Swartz, federal prosecutors were able to charge Swartz for unauthorized access and wire fraud violations under the CFAA. Faced with up to 35 years in prison, he took his own life last Friday shortly after prosecutors refused further negotiations on his plea bargain.
Lofgren has long been an ally of the internet community, and was one of the key voices in the debates which brought down the disastrous SOPA and PIPA internet censorship bills last year. She has included a draft of the new bill, saying she will seek co-sponsors from both political parties "in the coming days."
We have reached out to Lofgren's offices for further comment.