Jail
Lying on Facebook is technically breaking the law, but Congress isn't going to make it a felony. Image: Flickr / rickharris / CC-BY

On Sept. 14, George Washington University professor of law Orin Kerr wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal outlining the horrors that would ensue if the “Facebook Felony” bill became a reality and made lying online a felony. Amendments to the bill in Congress have obliterated that possibility, but legislators strengthening laws against computer fraud is still in front of Congress.

What is a Facebook Felony

As professor Kerr pointed out, strengthening of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, first written in 1986, would have made any lie online a felony. Taken to its logical end, this law would have made it a felony crime to violate terms of service on any website. This means that creating an account with a fake name, lying about your age, or even putting a fake weight on a dating profile could all count as felonies. The change to the law is intended, however, to target hackers that challenge the security of important computer networks.

Amendment protects individuals

Urged by Kerr and others, the Senate Judiciary Committee considering the update to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act added an amendment. The amendment specifically exempts “access in violation of a contractual obligation or agreement, such as an acceptable use policy or terms of service agreement, with an Internet service provider, Internet website, or non-government employer, if such violation constitutes the sole basis for determining that access to a protected computer is unauthorized.” In the debate over adding the amendment, Al Franken and Chuck Grassley used several examples that were not ethical but probably should not qualify as a felony. Things such as creating anonymous accounts on FourSquare to add positive reviews of your business – not felonious, but definitely unethical. Statues for cybersecurity have been used in the past to prosecute bullies but only in extreme cases.

What this means for you

No matter how this update to cyber security fares in Congress, the focus on online identity and security is definitely increasing. In 2009, the Justice Department prosecuted a woman for creating a fake profile on MySpace. In 2010, a computerized program that bought tickets on TicketMaster led to criminal charges for an individual. Many of these laws preventing unauthorized access can be used in civil cases as well as criminal. Following the terms of service on any website you choose to use is always important. The likelihood that you will be prosecuted for lying about your age on a dating site may be low, but is is always a good idea to read and understand the full terms of service so you know the rights and responsibilities you are going to be held accountable for.

Sources

The Atlantic Wire: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/09/latest-cyber-security-bill-could-make-facebooking-work-felony/42514/
Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903285704576562294116160896.html
Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2011/09/16/no-faking-your-name-on-facebook-will-not-be-a-felony/

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