In the wake of Internet activist Aaron Swartz’s suicide before his impending court case, Silicon Valley Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CrunchGov Grade: A) has proposed a bill that may have prevented the government from overzealous prosecution. Swartz reportedly faced an astounding 50+ years in prison and a $4 million fine after releasing millions of pay-walled academic articles from the popular JSTOR database. “Aaron’s Law” would amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in the hopes of limiting the prosecutorial power against citizens who merely release information from certain types of databases.
“We should prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users,” the Congresswoman wrote on popular content aggregator Reddit.com–a fitting tribute, considering Swartz was an early builder of the site. She continued:
The government was able to bring such disproportionate charges against Aaron because of the broad scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the wire fraud statute. It looks like the government used the vague wording of those laws to claim that violating an online service’s user agreement or terms of service is a violation of the CFAA and the wire fraud statute.
Prosecution against Swartz was apparently so aggressive that MIT has ordered an investigation into the handling of the case.
You can read the full bill here [PDF]. Lofgren writes that she will be seeking co-sponsors and support in the coming days.
We will have more analysis of the bill soon.