Good news: Breaking that TOS won’t land you in jail

Good news: Breaking that TOS won’t land you in jail

Perk up: you aren’t a criminal. That’s a good thing, it means you get to keep your job, or find one if you are hunting. Yes, you digital rascal, you user agreement breaking (also called ‘Terms of Service’) rapscallion, have just been cleared of your misdemeanors by the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals.

Sleep well tonight, my friends. Here’s what up: in the case US v Nosal, the court ruled that doing something against a user agreement (that we all sign without a second thought) is not necessarily an infraction that constitutes a crime. The Awl parses this perfectly:

That’s not crazy: up until quite recently, the court points out, minors couldn’t even “legally” use any Google product. On Facebook, it would have been “illegal” for any user to give another his password.

It’s quite interesting to see how the law is forced to adapt to technology, and how far behind it really is. If we are just now litigating something this simple, imagine what else has yet to have its day in court. I suspect a great deal of things are not yet in the docket, but will be in the next few years.

In its decision, the court stated that under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the government will not “prosecute minor violations.” It goes on to note “the case of the mom who posed as a 17-year-old boy and cyber-bullied her daughter’s classmate. The Justice Department prosecuted her under 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C) for violating MySpace’s terms of service, which prohibited lying about identifying information, including age.” The woman in question was acquitted of that charge.

Even more, the decision notes, “[l]ying on social media websites is common.” How are you going to prosecute that? The point is, new legal precedent has been laid to ensure that you don’t accidentally land in hot water for hitting ‘accept’ without reading. Right on.

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