Supporters and friends of Aaron Swartz are up in arms this week over a proposed bill that is allegedly circulating among members of Congress' House Judiciary Committee and would make the law used to prosecute Swartz even more strict.
"A draft cybersecurity bill circulating among House Judiciary Committee members would stiffen a computer hacking law used to bring charges against Internet activist Aaron Swartz," The Hill reported. "The bill draft would tighten penalties for cyber crimes and establish a standard for when companies would have to notify consumers that their personal data has been hacked, according to a copy obtained by The Hill."
The legislation would make several changes to the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act that would increase penalties for broadly defined offenses such as violating a a network's terms of service.
Opponents point out that the law not only fueled the prosecution of Swartz, who killed himself in the face of a 35-year prison sentence, but could have been used to go after Steve Jobs, who got started hacking phone networks, and Mark Zuckerberg, who hacked Harvard's internal network in the early days of Facebook.
"This language is really, really broad," legal analyst Orin Kerr said of the proposal. "If I read it correctly, the language would make it a felony to lie about your age on an online dating profile if you intended to contact someone online and ask them personal questions. It would make it a felony crime for anyone to violate the TOS on a government website. It would also make it a federal felony crime to violate TOS in the course of committing a very minor state misdemeanor. If there is a genuine argument for federal felony liability in these circumstances, I hope readers will enlighten me: I cannot understand what they are."
Digital rights advocate Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said that although it is mostly House Republicans who are rumored to be considering the proposal, many Republicans are opposed to the law, and worried about government overreach.
"Some other Republicans on that committee seem likely to oppose this language, so we should be very careful not to paint everyone with the same brush," Stinebrickner-Kauffman said.
Demand Progress, an Internet advocacy group that Swartz helped found, has carried on its founder's legacy, asking for help in defeating the proposal before it gets too far, before it's too late.
“This is an awful affront to all of the work we've been doing and to the cries for justice in the wake of Aaron's passing. Please help us beat this thing down,” Demand Progress said.