Lofgren to introduce bill amending hacking law in honor of Swartz

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) posted a copy of a draft bill to social news website Reddit late Tuesday that would modify a computer hacking law in the wake of Internet activist Aaron Swartz’s death.

Swartz, a co-creator of Reddit, was accused of stealing academic articles from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and faced federal hacking charges from the Justice Department. The 26 year-old programmer took his life on Friday.

He faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. Swartz’s family blamed the prosecutors’ aggressive charges for contributing to his death.

{mosads}”His family’s statement about this speaks volumes about the inappropriate efforts undertaken by the U.S. government,” Lofgren wrote in the Reddit post. “There’s no way to reverse the tragedy of Aaron’s death, but we can work to prevent a repeat of the abuses of power he experienced.”

Lofgren said the government was able to levy “such disproportionate charges” against Swartz because of “the broad scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the wire fraud statute.” Lofgren’s draft bill, which she hopes to name “Aaron’s Law,” would amend these measures so they exclude terms of service violations.

“It looks like the government used the vague wording of those laws to claim that violating an online service’s user agreement or terms of service is a violation of the CFAA and the wire fraud statute,” she said. “Using the law in this way could criminalize many everyday activities and allow for outlandishly severe penalties.”

Lofgren said she plans to seek co-sponsors for the bill in the “coming days” and asked Reddit users to submit their feedback on her draft bill.  

The California Democrat told The Hill earlier in the day that she briefly met Swartz when he was visiting Washington to speak out against the Stop Online Piracy Act on behalf of Demand Progress, the advocacy group he founded. Lofgren was a major opponent of the anti-piracy bill.

Lawrence Lessig, a political activist and professor at Harvard Law School who briefly represented Swartz, cheered Lofgren for introducing the draft measure.

“The CFAA was the hook for the government’s bullying of [Swartz]. This law would remove that hook,” Lessig said in a comment published on Lofgren’s Reddit post. “Let’s get this done for Aaron — now.”

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