A Silicon Valley congresswoman took to Reddit this week to propose tweaking a computer fraud law used to prosecute Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide last week in New York.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) not only posted a draft of "Aaron's Law" on her website. But she also posted a link on Reddit's blog about introducing 'Aaron's Law' to change the 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (PDF) by excluding terms of service violations.
The legislation aims at helping "prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users" by seeking to limit the "broad scope" of the act and the wire fraud statute, Lofgren wrote.
Her proposal is a narrow one, which would make it so that it is no longer a crime if someone violates a term of service, such as using a fake name on Facebook, or, downloading more material than is allowed.
"His family’s statement about this speaks volumes about the inappropriate efforts undertaken by the U.S. government," Lofgren wrote on the Reddit post.
"There’s no way to reverse the tragedy of Aaron’s death, but we can work to prevent a repeat of the abuses of power he experienced."
Reddit is a San Francisco-based social news and entertainment website where registered users submit content in the form of a link or text, and then users vote the submission with an "up" or "down" to determine its position on the page.
Swartz, a computer programmer best known for helping create RSS and Reddit, committed suicide on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. His family blamed his death on "prosecutorial overreach."
Swartz had faced up to 35 years in prison on 13 felony charges for downloading millions of academic journal articles from the online database JSTOR at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Charges included 13 felony charges, including breaching site terms and intending to share downloaded files through peer-to-peer networks, computer fraud, wire fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture.
Some of the allegations include that he violated JSTOR's terms of service by using automated programs and that he downloaded more articles than allowed. Lofgren's bill, if it passes, would forbid these allegations from being criminal charges.
In fact, JSTOR had urged federal prosecutors to drop their case, which hinged on Swartz violating the terms of service agreement with JSTOR for downloading too many articles at once.
Swartz had contended that JSTOR's fees limited access to academic work produced at American schools.
JSTOR announced this week that it would make more than 4.5 million articles publicly available for free.
"His family’s statement about this speaks volumes about the inappropriate efforts undertaken by the U.S. government," Lofgren wrote on the Reddit post. "There’s no way to reverse the tragedy of Aaron’s death, but we can work to prevent a repeat of the abuses of power he experienced."
Lofgren had been a Reddit fan, writing on her official home page about the "Reddit community's strong dedication to free expression." And then the congresswoman tried to crowd source a legislative proposal on Reddit, trying to build due process requirements into domain name seizures for copyright infringement.