Monday, August 11, 2008

Violating terms of service

You may have read about the tragic case of 13 year old Megan Meier:

Meier had received messages on MySpace from someone who purported to be a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. The two became online friends, exchanged some online flirtations, and her family said she seemed happier after having "met" Evans. In October of 2006, however, Evans' messages turned sour as he accused her of being mean to her friends and began forwarding her messages to "him" around to other people, prompting malicious gossip (both online and off) to spread about Meier being fat and a slut, among other things.
Meier killed herself, allegedly as a result of this online bullying. "Evans" turned out to be a neighbour, Lori Drew, the mother of one of Meier's friends.

Drew has been charged with breaching MySpace's Terms of Service. But this is causing some wider concerns:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology, along with Public Citizen and a group of 14 law professors, have filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that violating MySpace's Terms of Service agreement shouldn't be considered criminal offense under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The groups believe that if the mother, Lori Drew, is prosecuted using CFAA charges, the case could have significant ramifications for the free speech rights of US citizens using the Internet.
Why? Because it would potentially criminalise every web user. Even the act of accessing a site to discover what the terms of service are, then clicking away, would be a crime. If we are all criminals, then the decision who to prosecute can be made for other, external reasons. The law becomes an arbitrary tool that can be used to suppress activities that are deemed undesirable.


cabalamat said...

Hard cases make bad law, as they say.

dearieme said...

Isn't this the sort of business that should be settled not by a court of law, but by a lynch mob? Sorry, I mean "by community action".

JuliaM said...

It's a dreadfully sad case, and I'd back the parents if they sued her until she only had a cardboard box to live in (although dearieme's 'community action' sounds good too!).

But this is going a little too far...