A new legal precedent may be set with the case of [Lori Drew], the St. Louis woman who posed as a teenage boy on MySpace and harassed 13-year-old [Megan Meier] until she committed suicide. Drew is being charged under the computer fraud and abuse act, on the grounds that she violated the terms of service agreement of MySpace. If she is convicted of these charges (she is also being charged with conspiracy), it may allow for the criminal prosecution of anyone who violates the terms of service agreement of a site under the same law.
The computer fraud and abuse act was written primarily to target hackers who break into private networks to steal or destroy information, but prosecutors will argue that by willfully violating the MySpace user agreement, Drew’s access to the site was not authorized and thus an illegal intrusion.
The ramifications for a typical user may reach further than website TOS violations though; if for example, you have an unprotected wireless network at home or in your office, it could be a violation of the agreement with your ISP. Right now an ISP could cut your service, but if a new precedent is set, you could be charged with fraud.
If you’re a user of a social network, though, you may already be a guilty of what would be felony offenses. The major social networks all include a clause in their TOS agreements against using libelous, slanderous, or defamatory content. What’s more, if convicted of even one offense, the maximum penalty under the expanded law is 10 years of incarceration. Since Drew is being tried on two counts, she is facing a maximum of 20 years for these charges alone.
The decision to invoke the law has been criticized by many legal experts, suggesting that it creates a slippery slope where even people running a home eBay business or checking sports scores at work can be prosecuted.