They note that the draft bill conflicts with the public's call for Congress to narrow the computer hacking law in wake of Swartz's death. The 26-year-old programmer and activist committed suicide earlier this year while facing prison time and a fine of up to $1 million for allegedly breaking into a university computer network and stealing more than four million academic articles from a subscription service.
"Aaron’s death has prompted an outcry for CFAA reform from legislators, law professors and Internet users across the political spectrum — including many who thought Aaron should have been prosecuted, but not under the CFAA and not under threat of such harsh penalties," the letter states. "Unfortunately, the draft under discussion is a significant expansion of the CFAA at a time when public opinion is demanding the law be narrowed."
In the letter, the groups express concern that the draft bill would place CFAA violations under a separate racketeering statute and punish minor violations as felonies, which would give "prosecutors a heavy hammer to hang over individuals charged with borderline offenses."
The letter is signed by Leslie Harris, CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology; Katie McAuliffe, executive director of Americans for Tax Reform's Digital Liberty arm; and Wayne Brough, chief economist and vice president of research at FreedomWorks. Top officials from the American Civil Liberties Union, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Demand Progress and Electronic Frontier Foundation also signed onto the letter.
The draft Judiciary bill is aimed at tightening penalties for hackers that steal sensitive information from American companies and establish a standard for when companies would have to notify consumers that their personal data has been hacked.
Key language in the draft bill would also modify the anti-hacking law to state that an attempt or conspiracy to conduct computer fraud or a related crime “is punishable to the same extent as a completed offense.”
Next week Demand Progress and Swartz's partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, plan to launch a week of action to advocate for Congress to reform the CFAA and also drum up opposition to the House Judiciary Committee's draft bill. The advocacy group will also hold a rally on April 13 near the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston to protest Swartz's death and call attention to CFAA reforms.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) is drafting legislation in honor of Swartz that would clarify that violating a company's terms of service is not a crime under the CFAA.