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“Aaron’s Law” one step closer to becoming reality

The bill, named for hacker activist Aaron Swartz, aims to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It’s not in front of the House Judiciary Committee, with a chance to reach the House floor.


Kevin Collier

Internet Culture

Aaron’s Law is one step closer to becoming reality.

The bill, named after Reddit cofounder Aaron Swartz, is now under consideration from the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told reporters Tuesday that his committee “certainly [is] going to look at that very carefully and see what we can do,” though he made no promises.

If the Judiciary Committee approves the bill, it can introduce it to the House at large for a vote.

Swartz, 26, stood accused of stealing academic articles from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in violation of Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). CFAA’s language can be interpreted to prohibit violating a company’s terms of service; under that law, he faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Swartz took his own life in January after his proposed plea bargain collapsed.

In the wake of Swartz’s death, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), took to Reddit to ask for advice on how to use public outrage to fix some of CFAA’s wording, noting that “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.”

The proposed law would eliminate a section of the CFAA that makes violating a company’s terms of service—as Swartz did when he scraped more than 4 million documents from academic journal service JSTOR—a crime.

Goodlatte said the Judiciary Committee might also hold hearings on Aaron’s Law, as written by Lofgren, and on CFAA reform as a whole.

“We’re looking at what occurred in specific instances and what needs to done to make sure that the law isn’t abused,” he said.

Photo of Goodlatte via Wikimedia Commons

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