Violating Terms Of Service Equals Hacking

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.

[via Acidus]

32 thoughts on “Violating Terms Of Service Equals Hacking

  1. She should be held responsable for her actions regarding the torment she put that poor girl through, but she’s not a freakin’ hacker.

    Maybe she should be banned from the intarnets.

  2. I don’t think that what this woman did was right, but suicide by definition is inflicted by ones own hands. I think this whole trial is setting bad precedences at an alarming rate. Once again we see over litigiousness compromising what should be common sense.

  3. I agree that this is sad and the mother should be jailed for doing this, I don’t believe this story should be on THIS site.

    Please rethink these news articles, People come here for hacks.. this isn’t one, just an old lady that was clearly on crack. ;)

  4. prosecutors always test bad laws against “bad” people, to limit the controversy. once a precedent is set, it’ll be a lot harder for “good” people to challenge the law. the goal is to make criminals of us all.

  5. Yeah… First off, that woman is a jerk and should be punished, second, megan’s parents should be slapped and asked why they didn’t check up with their daughter. >.< Just as bad is the idea that people are hackers crackers just because they violate tos. That would be like saying everyone who has ever driven over the speed limit has committed motor vehicle fraud! (I’m sure there’s no such thing, but hey, it could be!) If you hear of someone creating motor vehicle fraud, remember: you saw it here first!

  6. Isn’t there any way to prosecute under laws governing things like harassment or emotional abuse? This woman is a sick, twisted creature, but let’s not destroy our legal system exacting our revenge.

  7. Unfortunately, there is no law specifically covering this. Prosecutors are grasping at straws. I would like to know why endangering the welfare of a minor, or contributing to the deliquincy of a minor do not apply. Why do the laws that cover harassment, harassing phone calls, or other abuse of a minor not apply?
    (And failing that, why can’t we just beat her to death? As a parent of a young teenage girl, I do not want people like this around. Its bad enough kids are cruel to each other. The friggin’ mother is acting like she is still in middle school. She needs smart pills. They are make of lead, and they are not swallowed, they are injected at high velocity!)
    I have to wonder if this is being deliberately handled this way just to create this precedent for other uses/motives. The abuse of power and twisting of laws and civil rights in the last 7.5 years would lead me to not doubt it.

  8. thing_1: Yeah… First off, that woman is a jerk and should be punished, second, megan’s parents should be slapped and asked why they didn’t check up with their daughter.

    I know that not everyone followed this case, but that point is totally misplaced.

    According to Megan’s parents, they did check up on her. She wasn’t allowed on the computer without supervision. Supposedly, the whole event, from finding out the fake-boy didn’t like her to killing herself, happened in a matter of minutes while Megan’s mother was fixing dinner. This was not a case of a child with a computer in her room and no supervision. Quite the opposite.

    Even if the woman is found guilty, it does nothing to set a precedent until the appeals. IANAL, but my suspicion is that on appeal a guilty verdict on ‘using a fake name’ would be over turned, while the parts on gathering info on a minor and harassment would stick. The only thing that would then be a precedent would be ‘Violating a TOS to commit’ either of those crimes. So, truthfully, not a big deal.

    Myself, I would have rather seen the lady charged with sexual harassment of a minor, child endangerment, reckless disregard, and since the death occurred because of those crimes, murder. Computer crime won’t get this lady put behind bars for the large amount of time she deserves.

  9. This seems like an excuse to have a precedent set to prosecute folks that do not comply with terms of service agreements. A TOS is not a legally binding agreement it only allows some one to refuse you service or cut your access to their resources legally. This is most likely being pushed by the corporations that truly control the politicians to allow them to now enforce TOS which can be written to do anything since they are not contracts.

    Secondly if the poor girl committed suicide she most likely had other problems that needed to be addressed. The supposed “adult” that did this is worthless and should be charged with harassment and those type of crimes, the parents should be charged with neglect for not being involved enough in their daughters life to see this going on.

  10. Though I’m not one for violence this is one special case where an old fashion lynching would be appropriate. My wife and I are having a child soon and hope they turn into one big geek–those are not the type of people we had in mind when we thought about children.

    Quin made good points.

  11. wow. A lot of emotional responses on this subject.

    The California DA’s coming up with TOS violation = hacking is absolutely absurd and I disagree with everyone that says that this is a “test case” for eroding our rights. To me, it seems that the DA’s are just drumming up more charges to put her in jail for longer. It reminds me of Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

  12. @11
    It doesn’t set a precedent, just by getting an indictment. First, the woman would have to be found guilty, and appeal her case, and lose the appeal. Then, another lower court, lower compared to the highest appeal court that heard the first case, would have to rule based on the first case. Then, you have a precedent. Check and

    That already happened, to a degree. Someone, supposedly a group from one of the chans, organized some mob justice. I believe it involved getting people fired and generally causing lulz. Should still be some stories about it.

  13. The way to prosecute this would be to go after the woman’s actions (badgering a teenager to the point of suicide), and not acknowledge that this is a problem with social networks, the Internet, or even pseudo-anonymity. This lady is defective enough to enjoy mentally torturing children, so why is that not the focus of this investigation?

  14. not to be a d!ck but…. this is not a HAD story/hack/anything
    this is some old crazy lady harassing some one younger.
    bit of a downer i say.

    we all violate TOS but this does not make us hackers


  15. If I understand this correctly Missouri would not place charges agaist her Lori Drew. This may not be hacking but it is fraud and someone died from it. Adults should not be playing games with children. So California decides to give Lori Drew a frection of the jail time she deserves…. WAY TO GO CALIFORNIA!!!

    This is why all those sites have an NDA if you agree and then abuse it YOU CAN GO TO JAIL!

  16. Just to point out why she is not being charged with other worse crimes she commited…

    Missouri to my understanding has not charged Lori Drew. When you commit a computer crime there is no telling where your “Unauthorized Access” took Place. Sooo, California is Charging here with everything they can. It just so happens it is not much compared to the crimes she commited.

  17. I think there’s a big difference between what this woman did and running a wireless network. Even though both are examples of violating terms of service, the woman actually did provide fraudulent information. I’m no lawyer, but I don’t think a prosecutor could prove a fraud charge when you haven’t entered any false information into a system in order to (fraudulently) appear to be in TOS compliance.

  18. This is stupid.

    The problem arises because the public, and the courts, want to see this women punished but she really didn’t do anything illegal. She didn’t kill the girl.

    Since when is ‘being mean to someone and telling them the world is better off without them so they kill themselves’ a criminal act?

    Yes, it is disgusting, deplorable and immoral. But there is no law against it that the authorities can find so they had to find something to charge her with. So, they chose to make a loophole to link the TOS with ‘unauthorized access’ so they can charge her with something – and thereby create a legal mess for the future.

  19. I absolutely agree with 17-struc9
    The comments I find here especially with the smarter, geekier crowd is surprising. While what she did was morally wrong by most peoples standards, she didn’t do anything illegal. This is a free country (USA) and you should be able to say whatever you want to anyone you want under the first amendment. It was the girl’s own choice to keep looking at the messages, take the messages seriously, and kill herself, not the woman’s.

  20. crash:
    The USA is a free country, but you still can not say what ever you want. Slander is still unlawful, as is shouting fire in a theatre when there isn’t a fire and the people there are likely to panic.

    I just can’t understand why ‘depraved indifference’ didn’t get the woman indicted in Missouri. I don’t know Missouri laws, maybe they don’t have a depraved assault law. Chances are, if this case had happened in some other state with a clear depraved crime law, this woman would have been charged and the whole computer part of it wouldn’t have been an issue.

    However, for everyone who argues that, since her action wasn’t illegal in Missouri, she shouldn’t be charged for the computer crimes in California, I recommend that you remember that her actions on the computer are apparently illegal in California. Why should we follow the lack of law, but discount an existing law because we don’t like the possible future of it?

  21. @19
    That reminded me of something an economics teacher told me, while we have freedom to do great things, we also have the freedom to fuck up big time, like I don’t know, killing ourselves maybe.

    anyways I kind of liked this place better when discussion on law didn’t really exist, just hacks and cool shit like that :)

  22. Tell me how this is not breaking the law?

    Quotes from Myspace TOS. I was surprised to see that just looking at a Myspace page means you agree to these terms.

    “”This Terms of Use Agreement (“Agreement”) sets forth the legally binding terms for your use of the MySpace Services. By using the MySpace Services, you agree to be bound by this Agreement, whether you are a “Visitor” (which means that you simply browse the MySpace Website, including through a mobile device, or otherwise use the MySpace Services without being registered) or you are a “Member” (which means that you have registered with MySpace).””

    “” If you do not agree to be bound by this Agreement and to follow all applicable laws, you should leave the MySpace Website and discontinue use of the MySpace Services immediately. “”

    And finaly this should sum it all up!

    “”8. Content/Activity Prohibited. The following are examples of the kind of Content that is illegal or prohibited to post on or through the MySpace Services. MySpace reserves the right to investigate and take appropriate legal action against anyone who, in MySpace’s sole discretion, violates this provision, including without limitation, removing the offending Content from the MySpace Services and terminating the Membership of such violators. Prohibited Content includes, but is not limited to, Content that, in the sole discretion of MySpace: “”

    8.2 harasses or advocates harassment of another person;

    8.3 exploits people in a sexual or violent manner;

    8.5 solicits personal information from anyone under 18;

    8.7 constitutes or promotes information that you know is false or misleading or promotes illegal activities or conduct that is abusive, threatening, obscene, defamatory or libelous;

    At this pont I’m only half way through TOS and not even started on Privacy Policy so tell me again how she didn’t break the law?

    P.S. These TOS’s are there for the very reason to protect people. The TOS was violated and some1 died. Also know that if someone accidently dies while you are commitng a felony you are automaticaly responsible for their death under law.

  23. I want to add one last point. I’m not all for this woman being prosecuted I think many parent would do the same if their child was having problems with another. Also there were more people involved and we do not know the circumstances that led up to this.

    But please do not go on thinking that These people did not break the law.

  24. Just wait until the first of the “Terms of Service” laws are passed by our knee-jerk reactionary government. You installed Linux on your iPod? That’s a violation of the TOS! You’re going to jail! Converted your iPhone to use a carrier other than AT&T? I hope you like prison sex…

    This is how gun laws get passed. Some idiot out there does something stupid, the media jumps all over it, and rather than applying existing laws against that person, they write a bunch of new ones that end up strangling the rights of innocent people later on.

  25. @ Levi

    It’s not breaking the law because it is not illegal (aka against the law) to break a TOS you fucking retard.

    If I tell you in a TOS to use my site that you can no longer sleep on Wednesdays, have to castrate yourself, and give me your first born is that illegal if you don’t follow those rules?

    Laws are passed by government. A TOS is a (potentially non-binding – this has never yet been challenged in court) one-sided ‘click-through’ contract generated by the service provider.


  26. tos is a contract and if you agree to a contract unless that contract breaks the law you can be held to that contract reguargless if the laws state that or not.

    We will definatly see who the retard is as this unfolds. and people might begin reading all those contracts they consent too.

  27. Hello, I read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and I was just wondering if you get a ton of spam? If so how do you control it, any plugin or something you can suggest? I get so much it’s driving me insane so any help is most appreciated.

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