Silicon Valley Lawmaker Pushes for ‘Aaron’s Law’ on Reddit

By Cameron Scott 

social networks, online activism, social mediaZoe Lofgren, a Democratic Representative from Silicon Valley, will introduce a bill to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, dubbing it Aaron’s Law after Aaron Swartz, who took his life while facing charges under the act.

Lofgren posted a draft version of her bill on Reddit, where Swartz was an early staffer.

“We should prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users. The government was able to bring such disproportionate charges against Aaron because of the broad scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the wire fraud statute…Using the law in this way could criminalize many everyday activities and allow for outlandishly severe penalties,” Lofgren wrote.

Those critical of the government’s handling of Swartz’s case (explainer here) say it’s unfair to characterize the open Internet activist’s actions as hacking, when he had permission to access the JSTOR archive. He simply gained faster access, allowing him to download more of the archived journal articles that he otherwise would have been able to.

Lofgen’s amendment would decriminalize violating terms of service, such that users would have to additionally obtain or alter information they were not entitled to obtain or alter for their actions to be considered criminal.

Lawrence Lessig, a law professor and a friend of Swartz’s, was among the first to lay part of the blame for Swart’z suicide on the prosecuting attorneys, supported Lofgren’s efforts on Reddit.

“In a single line: no longer would it be a felony to breach a contract. Let’s get this done for Aaron — now,” he posted.

Other Redditors also agreed that the law needs reform.

“There is not a software developer in the USA that is not a felon according to the CFAA. This must change,” wrote user CarlostheCharlie.

But other users saw political opportunism. One noted that Lofgren had introduced similar legislation in the past. Another wondered why Congress hadn’t looked into Swartz’s case before he died.

“I applaud the effort, but it’s too late. Aaron is dead,” user nstgic said simply.