Legislators proposed changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act over the weekend, hoping to enact stricter repercussions for hacking and other computer crimes. The bill was used to prosecute the recently deceased coder and activist Aaron Swartz, prompting many to say it was too harsh and poorly written.
The draft bill would increase sentences for hacking offenses and considers such crimes under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act. Thus, hacking could be considered as organized crime. It also seeks to expand on the definition of computer fraud and abuse. Because of the nature of the draft bill, however, it is intended to spark discussion around what the CFAA should really look like.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that helps hackers and activists alike in their legal dealings online, tweeted, “Outrageous: Congress wants to take the law that prosecutors used against Aaron Swartz and make it even worse.”
A second tweet included a link to a “take action” website with a photo of Swartz and a description of his situation.
Swartz, who was prosecuted under the CFAA, committed suicide while facing up to 35 years in jail and a $1 million fine for using the MIT network to steal a large number of documents off of digital library JSTOR. After his death, many called for legal reform, believing his expected punishment should have been reduced.
“This proposal is a giant leap in the wrong direction and demonstrates a disturbing lack of understanding about computers, the Internet, and the modern economy,” said David Segal, executive director Demand Progress, the advocacy organization started by Aaron Swartz, in a statement. “Already the outdated Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act is used by overzealous lawyers to prosecute routine computer activity.”