Lori Drew, the 50-year-old woman convicted of unauthorized computer access last year in the country’s first federal cyber-bullying prosecution will be sentenced July 2. The judge is also considering a defense motion to overturn the jury verdict. Drew’s defense attorney filed a motion for a directed acquittal after the prosecution rested its case, claiming that the government failed to prove that Drew had intentionally violated MySpace’s terms of service to gain unauthorized access to its computers. That motion is still under advisement.
Drew, was indicted in federal court after Missouri prosecutors refused to charge her as there was no evidence of a state crime. It was as the first time that a federal statute designed to combat computer crimes was used to prosecute what were essentially a breach of a user agreement on a social networking site.
At trial, Drew was convicted of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the federal anti-hacking law. The jury bought the prosecutor’s argument that Drew violated the statute in obtaining unauthorized access to MySpace’s computers by violating the site’s terms of service despite the fact that Drew never read the Terms Of Service.
The jury found that while she may have never read the TOS, she knew what she was doing violated the terms. The conviction of the lessor misdemeanor counts were for the simple act of the unauthorized access. Lori Drew was NOT found guilty of any felony charge directly related to the suicide of Megan Meir. The bottom line is that Lori Drew was found guilty of violating the Myspace Terms Of Service. In essence, the jury found that knowingly violating the Terms Of Service of a social web site constitutes a federal crime.
The judge should overturn the conviction and set Lori Drew free. Not because what she did wasn’t reprehensible, outrageously cruel behavior. She simply committed no crime. She breached a contractual agreement. I suspect that in a civil suit, the Meirs will force her into bankruptcy for whatever that’s worth but again, there was no crime. If the verdict is not overturned at the trial level, it will certainly be reversed by the judges of the 9th Circuit who I assume will be reluctant to criminalize breach of contract.
While we all accept the idea that cyber-bullying is bad and that there should be consequences for those who engage in such behavior, that is for Congress to decided, not prosecutors coming up with novel theories having no connection to the intent of the actual law so they can make social policy. That is not their job. That is the job of our lawmakers. One may argue that courts routinely interpret and extend statutes to conclusions not previously reached by other courts. That is true. There however must be a logical conclusion that has some relation to the Congressional intent of the statute. There is no such nexus here.
In the meantime, now that a jury has found that it is a federal crime to intentionally violate the Terms of Service on a website watch out. Be careful when you create your bogus Match.com or Facebook profile with a phony name, photos from 10 years and 30 pounds ago, neglecting to mention your five marriages and 8 kids and job at Jack In The Box. You may be surprised when federal agents show up on your doorstep telling you that Congress also intended that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act prevent loser 30k Millionaire douchbags from intentionally inflicting emotional distreess on hot young women by lying. I am deleting my fake accounts as we speak.