Monday, July 3, 2017

Protect bloggers and desktop activists

Petition to Congress:
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is an outdated 1986 law that is continually used to bring felony charges against internet activists and bloggers like McMansion Hell’s Kate Wagner. We demand an overhaul to the CFAA to prevent overzealous prosecution of harmless activity online.

This week, the hilarious satire blog, McMansion Hell, was almost wiped off of the face of the internet when real estate site Zillow threatened a frivolous lawsuit.1
Thankfully it didn’t happen, but here’s what was truly terrifying about it – in their cease and desist letter Zillow cited the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA. This is no laughing matter, the CFAA has been used time and again to persecute journalists, online activists, and tech employees for years.2
The late Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Demand Progress, was charged with violating the CFAA and threatened with up to 35 years in jail for downloading academic articles that were freely available to anyMIT campus visitor. With that lawsuit still hanging over his head he later took his own life.
The CFAA is an old, outdated law written before the internet as we know it even existed. It’s so vague and broad-reaching that it does little to stop cyber attacks but is highly effective at intimidating everyday internet users, like McMansion Hell’s Kate Wagner.2
Invoking the CFAA to scare McMansion Hell’s Kate Wagner wasn’t just a frivolous legal overreach. It’s a painful reminder that innocent online activity like poking fun at architecture or downloading publicly available academic resource can land everyday internet users like you and me in prison with hefty fines.
1. Washington Post, "An online housing giant picked a fight with a one-woman blog. And lost." June 29, 2017.
2. Wired, "The Most Controversial Hacking Cases of the Past Decade," October 26, 2015.

- Demand Progress

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