What to Do About the Worst Law

Over at the New Yorker, Tim Wu writes about Fixing the Worst Law in Technology. That law is, of course, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. CFAA was the vehicle that federal prosecutors used to threaten Aaron Swartz with decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines for what, at the end of the day, was violating JSTOR's terms of service. Those threats are widely believed to have precipitated Swartz's suicide but far from being chastened, prosecutors are busy charging others with similar trivial violations carrying equally severe penalties.

None of this is news to the informed geek and certainly the Irreal readership is aware of the issues. What's significant about the New Yorker article is that it's in the New Yorker. The magazine is hardly a hotbed of technology news and not a place where one would expect to find a large contingent of geeks hanging out. It is, in short, as mainstream as a magazine can be. Thus, it's significant that they are covering this issue and bringing it to the attention of people who might never have heard of it otherwise.

The article is sympathetic to the movement to get the CFAA changed and unlike many publications—mainstream and technical—gets the facts of the Swartz case correct. Still, Wu is pessimistic about Congress making any meaningful changes, Zoe Lofgren's bill notwithstanding. He believes that the best hope for change is that President Obama will reform it administratively. Not that encouraging but at least the word is getting out beyond the technical community.

The article is well written and worth a read if only because it won't tell you that Swartz “hacked” into some site and stole a bunch of papers. Go on over and take a look.

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