On Tuesday, as a part of Demand Progress and the Internet Defense League’s week of action, Internet experts gathered on Reddit to answer users' questions and explain the problems with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that they are all working together to fix.
The purpose of the whole week is to increase awareness about issues with the CFAA, which was passed in 1986 and has been expanded several times since. The activists want to encourage voters to contact their representatives in Congress to stop the latest proposed CFAA expansion and to bring real reform to the law — which currently threatens most Internet users with federal felony charges.
The week concludes with a rally in Boston at noon Saturday, April 13, in Dewey Square Park. On Tuesday, it was a chance for Web users to talk directly with the experts about what the law means and why it needs changing.
The experts who participated in the Reddit AMA included officials from organizations like Aaron Swartz’ Demand Progress, the Internet Defense League and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Orin Kerr, an expert in Internet law from George Washington University; and Jennifer Granitz, director of Civil Liberties for the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School.
Eapen Thampy, the executive director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, mentioned his organization’s angle on the law, which seemed to generate interest from readers and the experts alike.
“The proposed civil forfeiture provisions are indeed troubling,” Ryan Radia, one of the experts and the associate director of technology studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said. “Currently, ‘[a]ny property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to a violation of [the CFAA]’ is subject to civil forfeiture. But the CFAA discussion draft would expand this to include ‘[a]ny property ... used, or intended to be used, to commit or facilitate the commission of [a CFAA violation].’ This means your computer could be seized if you access a website in violation of its ToS, even if the government doesn't even charge (let alone convict) you of any crime.”
Users were largely asking what they could do to help, even if they didn’t live in the U.S., and how there could ever be an end to the constant stream of new legislation that threatens the freedom and innovative core of the Internet.
“We're still very early in the process of building a pro-Internet political constituency,” said David Adam Segal, executive director of Demand Progress. “Trust me that there are far more people on our side on these issues than there were a few years ago — it's an ongoing process, and it's working.”