Making private disputes a federal crime is a silly overreaction

Back in 2008, a woman created a fake MySpace profile to torment her teenage daughter’s rival, and the tormented girl ultimately committed suicide. it was a terrible story that illustrated the depths of human depravity, but the federal government’s extreme overreaction was (or should have been) a concern to virtually every internet user.

The MySpace case was the overreaction of one rogue federal prosecutor, who sought to punish a woman with prison time for what was basically a Terms of Service violation. Tormenting a teenager might be sick and depraved, but no one who knows the tiniest bit about computers would agree with the federal government’s absurd contention that she was guilty of computer hacking.

Now, thanks to a really dumb proposal, a TOS violation could now be written into law as a federal crime. Breaking your employer’s policies on recreational use of the Internet could also place you on the wrong side of the law. This proposal could literally create hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of criminals out of thin air.

The goal – to crack down on legitimate hackers – is a good one. A particularly destructive hacker can cause serious economic disruption and personal harm, even exposing his victims to violence or threats of violence. But the solution is not to smash a spider with a sledgehammer. Overly broad laws will inevitably be abused and cause harm to innocents. This needs to be scrapped and rewritten in a much more narrow way.

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