Lori Drew Dismissal

One of the more important court rulings of the year for the residents of the internet came Friday, mostly unheralded. For those who do not recall Lori Drew, she was prosecuted under federal hacking charges for violating MySpace’s Terms of Service (“unauthorized access”). In reality, she was being prosecuted because her ToS violation was related to a girl’s suicide, but the government’s theory in the case held that anyone who violates any ToS has done pretty much the same thing as hacking into a bank or airline’s systems. So if you have ever been banned from any site or game, or done anything that would cause you to be banned if you were caught (does anyone know your account info? Oops…), you would be up for federal criminal charges were you ever politically relevant. Because anything bad must be illegal.

After conviction on some charges, the judge indicated that he would be dismissing the charges. (Layman’s observation: it might have been more efficient to do that last year, before letting the trial happen, although I understand there are rules and processes and such.) That took about two months to become final:

The reasoning of the opinion is that whatever unauthorized access means, it cannot mean mere violation of Terms of Service without more. Such a reading of the statute would render the statute unconstitutionally void for vagueness because it would give the government almost unlimited power to prosecute any Internet user and wouldn’t give citizens sufficient notice as to what of their Internet conduct was criminal.

That “final” link has discussion and the text of the ruling. In this case, it took about three years to get a legal ruling that you cannot (successfully) (in the long run) prosecute (persecute?) someone for being bad or doing things you do not like. There needs to be a law against it.

: Zubon

15 thoughts on “Lori Drew Dismissal”

  1. While I don’t agree with the way they went about the case and her conviction had the chance to set a pretty dangerous precedent, I don’t at all agree with how you’ve categorized this.

    This is a sick, pathetic woman who drove a child to suicide after leading her on for months, psychologically building up a dependency with a teenager who already had a history of issues, and then cruelly turning around and destroying her emotionally– because the girl got into a fight with her daughter.

    The only reason the ToS violation came into play was because this sad excuse for a human happened to torture this child before there were any laws on the books dealing with cyber-bullying or stalking. They agreed that something needed to be done to her to punish her for what she did, else there would really be a miscarriage of justice that her harassment killed a child in a way that kept her squeaking by punishment for it. In any other situation this would be manslaughter at minimum, but because she only drove the kid to hang herself over the internet, she lucked out. The ToS claim was flimsy, but they felt they needed to do something, or she’d get away with, literally, murder.

    In that context, “persecuting” her seems pretty apt to me. This transcends “doing things you do not like.” At a certain point society frankly doesn’t need individuals like this in its midst. The only downside was this legal ruling had the shot to be used against cases that had nothing to do with this woman, and that would have been extremely dangerous to have written down. That’s the only reason I didn’t agree with it, which has nothing to do with this woman– who frankly should be taken out to the town square and poked with sticks for the next year.

  2. This is a complex issue, and I’m not sure this is the best outcome. How many knee-jerk laws get put into the books because something like this happens? Many of those “silly laws” you read about on humor sites were created in situations where they wanted to stop a specific act that wasn’t quite illegal.

    I think you’re also engaging in a bit of fearmongering here. If you think the feds would bust every person who shares account information, you’re very mistaken. One game operator told me the first thing the FBI asked from him when he reported someone breaking into his servers was to fax bank statements to show the crime had a financial impact. I suspect his case would have gotten put into the round file if he hadn’t been running a reasonably profitable business. I’m sure short of causing someone’s suicide, we wouldn’t see a whole lot done against “cyberbullying”, either.

    Finally, careful what you wish for. Perhaps new laws will be drafted that will be worse than the previous ruling. Worse, perhaps the government will shift responsibility to network owners to not overwork law enforcement offices. I’m sure everyone here trusts EA or Sony to go through all their in-game communication and treat it with the dignity and respect it deserves, right? (Wait for everyone to stop laughing….) There’s a difference between storing some chat for later retrieval and having to actively monitor everything.

    Perhaps it’s best that violating the terms of service can’t be a federal crime, but I’m not sure it’s time to start cheering without looking at what the alternative might become.

    1. If you think the feds would bust every person who shares account information, you’re very mistaken.

      No, that’s not what KTR’s Zubon said. He said “were you ever politically relevant.” That’s a distinct, and non-trivial, difference.

      Perhaps it’s much worse. After all, if everyone who has a bee infestation (unlicensed hives are against the law in a couple states), or provided free coffee in the wrong place was arrested, there might be a fair bit more outcry. Instead, most people never know the law is there. As a result, there is not a single doctor out there that has not violated Medicare or HIPAA-related laws because they employed a talkative secretary or ever had a typo occur in their office, ever. Anyone that runs a gas station or airport is in violation of the law if they do not report the slightest spill — and in violation if they do. Infamously, an individual named David Henson McNab is facing eight years of jail time for selecting plastic rather than paper. Under the CPSIA, anyone that runs a garage sale with toys or books is probably breaking the law. None of these people knew they were breaking the law — in many cases they’d rather explicitly think they weren’t after checking the letter of it! But if conviction is convenient, if you’re politically important, or if you need an example made of you…

      Things like this case are why the prohibition on overly vague and overly broad laws exist. You might not like the result in this particular circumstance, but the rules of law are there to protect the vile just as much as the completely innocent, and any society that has more of the latter than the former can not afford to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      That’s not to advocate a bunch of lawmakers mandating your theoretical backblast (a pretty clear-cut violation of several different Constitutional prohibitions, plus some less well-known matters of state law and due process), but there are ranges we can’t let laws step past in the first place in the name of compromise, and this is well beyond that point.

  3. Problem is that, if breaking the EULA is a felony, then it gives third parties the ability to write new laws just by drafting a EULA. Anything they write in their terms of service becomes law by fiat? BAD precedent.

  4. I that horrible woman was prosecuted why weren’t the girls parents prosecuted as well for negligence?

    The thing that drives me mad is that some, if not most, parents treat the Internet as a TV. Internet isn’t a e-sitter and installing safety software is not good parenting.

    My young nieces are allowed to surf the web on the family computer which is on the living room and when they surf the web they are always supervised. A 12 year old isn’t intitled to privacy on the net. Period.

    I may be unfair in this, but it strikes me as odd how can young girls, for example, maintain conversations with stalkers for months without the parents ever being aware.

  5. Since I am sick as a dog, and likely flamebait will be the result of me typing anything worthwhile on the subject. I will just say, Tipa’s got it. EULA’s/ TOS/ Click-through contracts have gone too far. They should not be used for ANY legal vehicles apart from mere contract damages. No copyright violation, no torts, nothing. I am glad, that the trial judge had the guts to say this was all BS at the outset.

  6. The issue isn’t whether “the feds would bust every person who shares account information”, the issues is if you happen to piss off the wrong person with political connections, they could do that to you too, and land you in prison over a civil matter.

    And who in the realm of computer use are most likely to piss people in power off? The bloggers and writers of political commentary and journalists, the very aspect of the press that is needed in a functioning democracy.

    It also bears mentioning that many of these types of federal laws are only to evade double jeopardy, the defendant got away with what they do in state courts, so here comes a new federal law that is slightly different, which violates the spirit of double jeopardy if not the letter.

    When passions are high is the last time you want to write laws. The idea of “never waste a good crisis” is anathema to writing good sound laws, instead you get the “knee-jerk” reactions mentioned. I think congress needs a cooling off period, maybe after each crisis, they take a time out and do nothing for a month, to stop listening to the cries of “there oughta be a law!”. No there shouldn’t, bad things will happen, and the few times they do doesn’t mean everyone else needs restrictions on their normal behavior.

  7. “before there were any laws on the books dealing with cyber-bullying or stalking”

    actually that’s not true, cyberstalking has been included in stalking since 2000 at the federal level as part of the “Violence against women” act, many states have had it for awhile.

    The fact is, no matter how bad her actions were, that has nothing to do with whether violating TOS should be a crime or not. We can’t let our anger at her cloud our judgement. Everyone else has already written about that woman and how bad she is, and whether it was only her fault or if there were other factors. Zubon is writing about other things: the ramification of making a civil matter into a criminal one, and twisting laws around to get a judgement when no existing law can properly serve. That has ramifcations far beyond the current case, due to stare decisis.

  8. It is not the job of the Government to act as morality police, the moment we give the Government the right and power to punish us for moral crimes or because we just don’t like something, then we are asking for a Fahrenheit 451 society.

    It is sad that there was a loss of life in this situation, but think about all the “trash talk” and “taunting” that goes on inside a video game, is it mature? No, but it also shouldn’t be criminal, we have to be very careful how much power we let the Government have over us lest we forget the Patriot Act.

    I think it would do some people good to read 1984.

    1. “It is not the job of the Government to act as morality police, the moment we give the Government the right and power to punish us for moral crimes or because we just don’t like something, then we are asking for a Fahrenheit 451 society.”

      What? Who writes the laws that the police follow in the first place? o_0

      Other than that Walter below is spot on. This wasn’t trash talking; this was a middle-aged woman psychologically abusing a child over the course of several months to the point that the girl killed herself. This was criminal behavior, and if this had taken place anywhere outside of the internet, Lori Drew would have been rightly, and justly, held responsible for it. Because laws around this thing hadn’t caught up with the rest of statutes, instead she gets off free after aiding in what was essentially murder. She didn’t hang this girl, but hell if she didn’t hand over the rope and smile.

      1. Being mean to the neighbor girl isn’t illegal outside cyberspace either. Selling people rope and despair is not generally considered murder, even if the buyer is emotionally fragile.

  9. “It is sad that there was a loss of life in this situation, but think about all the “trash talk” and “taunting” that goes on inside a video game, is it mature? ”

    Dude… there is a major difference between some adolescent screaming FAG down the mic during a COD4 game on Xbox Live and Lori Drew.

    Yeah its great the judge threw out the case cos it was daft, but lets call a spade a spade here. What Lori Drew did is in no way similar to the ‘trash talk’ and ‘taunting’ that goes on inside video games.

  10. Can anyone prove Lori Drew “drove” her to suicide?
    I can believe it may have been the proverbial “last straw”, but does anyone actually believe that girl was emotionally healthy before this event?

    Usually suicide, if it’s not a sudden chemical change, is brought about by years of depression, lonliness, and negativity. I doubt one person being cruel is not enough to suddenly cause a healthy person to kill themself. How did her friends treat her? How did her parents treat her? Was she very happy before?

    Heck, saying “go kill yourself” is pretty common nowdays, text abuse and text gossip is becoming a growing problem, and of course the things people say over text are much worse than they would say out loud. But it happens.

    Think about all the other times people have killed themselves say after a breakup. Did the person who broke up with them cause it? Even if they said horrible things? no they didn’t. They were just one more item in a long list of pain that the person sees.

    Felony Murder, which is one of our loosest murder charges, requires that a reasonable person could anticipate someone would likely die due to their actions. No reasonable person would think harrassment and abuse would result in suicide. They would think it would only cause pain. that is why Lori’s actions, while despicable, do not cross the threshold required for even our loosest murder laws.

    “What? Who writes the laws that the police follow in the first place”
    Laws are based on Common Law. That is not the same thing as enforcing morality. Based on our own history of laws, she is not guilty of murder. She’s guilty of other things, but not specifically murder.

    Maybe there should be a law for emotional torment. Though that is definitely a slippery slope, I’d sue my parents and a couple nuns if that had been the law.

    And wanting to punish someone so bad that we throw out Rule of Law to do it is no way to run a society either.

Comments are closed.