Today Rep. Zoe Lofgren announced that she will award Internet activist Aaron Swartz, posthumously, the James Madison Freedom of Information Award.
Aaron Swartz’s early demise by suicide, which followed intense prosecution of his online work, sparked a storm of criticism; his family and former partner have been vocally active in placing partial blame for Aaron’s death on those who sought to ensure that even with a plea deal, time in prison would be required.
The laws that allowed for such prosecution are being examined for potential reform. The same Rep. Lofgren is working on a bill known simply as ‘Aaron’s Law,’ that reforms the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a piece of legislation that is far too broad in its scope.
Like the first draft, this revised draft explicitly excludes breaches of terms of service or user agreements as violations of the CFAA and wire fraud statute. This revised draft also makes clear that changing one’s MAC or IP address is not in itself a violation of the CFAA or wire fraud statute.
In addition, this draft limits the scope of CFAA by defining “access without authorization” as the circumvention of technological access barriers. Taken together, the changes in this draft should prevent the kind of abusive prosecution directed at Aaron Swartz and would help protect other Internet users from outsized liability for everyday activity.
It recently became known that, as reported in the Huffington Post, “congressional staffers left [a briefing with the Department of Justice] with the impression that prosecutors believed they needed to convict Swartz of a felony that would put him in jail for a short sentence in order to justify bringing the charges in the first place.” TNW viewed this as disgraceful.
Aaron was hit with felony allegations following his downloading of academic papers from the JSTOR server. He was accused of having intention to distribute them.
The James Madison Freedom of Information Award, as its title suggests, is awarded to a figure who has worked to expand free speech. Interestingly, Rep. Lofgren was herself awarded the honor last year. Aaron’s family will accept the award this Friday in Washington DC.
Top Image Credit: Doc Searls