Unauthorized Access

In 2009 and earlier, I blogged a few times about the Lori Drew case, in which a woman was prosecuted under federal hacking laws for violating MySpace’s terms of service. I drafted but never posted a follow-up of the US government’s continuing to pursue that legal interpretation in an even stronger form: “exceeding authorized access” (federal hacking felony) includes violating your access privileges in any way. That includes checking the news/weather at work when the office policy says, “no personal internet use.” That includes swearing in World of Warcraft or violating the ToS in any game. And that argument is winning. Granted, Ninth Circuit; granted, divided; but this is one of the most powerful enablings of selective prosecution you are likely to see this month.

A legal interpretation holding that checking the weather is a federal felony is clearly insane, but it is not clearly wrong. It is not even necessarily an unfair reading of the plain wording of the statute.

: Zubon

6 thoughts on “Unauthorized Access”

  1. This is why we need a new legal framework pertaining to the internet. Until small details like this are set in stone one way or the other, people will continue to exploit the loopholes whenever and however it suits them, to the disadvantage of everyone.

    The trouble is, the people generally making and upholding the laws are still of the generation that does not use the internet as widely, and therefore does not necessarily understand the nuances of its use.

    In a generation or so, pretty much everyone alive will have spent most of their lives using or being aware of this technology, and that’s when laws and the legal approach to the internet will begin to change. Or so I suspect, anyway.

    it remains to be seen how the new series of laws fill fall, of course. I expect it will vary greatly by country, as with everything else.

  2. Most of my “facts” are things I heard on BBC Radio 4 or read in the Guardian, which I remember only in the vaguest outline. With that caveat, I believe that businesses in the U.K. are prevented by E.U. law from completely barring employees from all personal use of communications technology while at work.

    As I recall, there is a legal obligation to provide, or at least not forbid, reasonable use for the continuation of normal family life. For example, if you needed to check the weather online because it could affect your journey time back from work and thereby impact your childcare arrangements, I would imagine that your employer would not just be unable legally to prevent you, but might even have a legal obligation to facilitate your enquiry.

    With that said, I would personally be in favor of a strict interpretation of internet access at work. I think that criminalizing simple time-wasting is a step too far, though. Breaches of the terms of your employment could and should be dealt with through the internal processes of the company or, at worst, through the civil courts or appropriate tribunals.

    In the end, how much internet access your employer allows you and under what terms is one of the many factors that differentiates one workplace from another. If being able to maintain your Blog in work time is important to you, then you probably need to find an employer whose corporate philosophy (or local management practice) permits it.

  3. The Ninth is easily our most valuable circuit, because they overrreach to such an extent that they make it easy for the Supreme Court to stand for individual liberty.

    It would be nice to think of the Ninth as a gang of smart trolls, saying the most outrageous things in order to provoke readers (the Supreme Court) to the opposite conclusion in a thoughtful manner. Of course that would be wrong. They really are idiots.

    But they’re useful idiots, in that they provoke reversal so often.

  4. Yay! PMITA jail time for all trolls, I say! On a more serious note, enjoy your crypto-fascist state’s development period, guys. It’s seriously educational, especially towards the end.

  5. Are you claiming that passing laws at the height of emotional tension to hurry and placate the mob can backfire? That is ridiculous, we have to never squander a good crisis. After a tragedy is the perfect moment to dive in and hurriedly pass sweeping new legislation, there is no time to think about the repercussions!

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