A while back, my blog, "Atheists, Get Out of the Damned Closet" pointed out that the majority of Atheist bloggers do so anonymously. In a case that should frighten all bloggers, a recent court decision made this a federal felony. This is no joke, and if the decision is left standing after the appeal, anonymous blogging may be a thing of the past.
There's an old lawyer's saying, something like, "Bad cases make bad law." The tragic suicide of Megan Meier, allegedly triggered by "cyberbullying" on the part of defendant Lori Drew, is one such case. Drew created a MySpace.com account under false pretenses, pretending to be a 14-year-old boy, befriended Meiers, and then started sending hurtful and hateful messages, and Megan killed herself.
Unfortunately, this sort of harrassment, while reprehensible, is not criminal. Lori Drew violated MySpace's terms of service, but did not violate any criminal statutes.
But the prosecutor's office was under intense pressure to do something, so it tried to stretch the law. It claimed that by violating MySpace's terms of service, she was accessing a computer in violation of the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act), and thus a federal felon. Drew was brought to trial and convicted, and now faces up to three years in prison and $300,000 in fines.
This contortion of the law gives every web-site operator in the United States the ability to write criminal law. If you violate the terms of service of any web site, you are a criminal. A federal felon. Here are a couple examples:
- All children who use Google are federal felons, since Google's terms of service require you to be 18 or older.
- The majority of teens who use MySpace are federal felons, since most parents encourage their children to post incomplete or false identifying information.
- You'd be a fool to use YouTube.com at all, because their terms of service prohibits "bad stuff."
If you would like to learn more about this from a much more authoritative source (or if you don't believe me or think I'm exaggerating), I highly recommend Groklaw's analysis, and especially the amicus brief (PDF - scroll down to "Facts and Summary") filed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation. It's truly frightening.