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MySpace Suicide Charges Threaten Free Speech 687

Posted by kdawson
from the then-we-are-all-criminals dept.
Naturalist recommends a piece up at Ars about a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the EFF, CDT, Public Citizen, and a group of 14 law professors in the case of Lori Drew, who posed as a teenage boy to harass another teen online, eventually driving her to suicide. (We've discussed the case a few times.) "[The amicus brief argues] that violating MySpace's Terms of Service agreement shouldn't be considered criminal offense under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The groups believe that if the mother, Lori Drew, is prosecuted using CFAA charges, the case could have significant ramifications for the free speech rights of US citizens using the Internet."
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MySpace Suicide Charges Threaten Free Speech

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  • Bad precedent... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nebaz (453974) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:52PM (#24489759)

    The facts in this particular case point to a truly twisted individual, but this individual is unable to be prosecuted for major jail time under current, non "novel" interpretations of law. The proper thing to do is to note this case, and realize the perpetrator is not guilty of a felony, and create a new law to handle this case, rather than trying to find some way to twist the law to put this person in jail "for something", which will open the floodgates of abuses.

    • Re:Bad precedent... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Skadet (528657) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:57PM (#24489823) Homepage

      create a new law to handle this case

      I assume by "case" you mean "behavior".

      What kind of behavior are you considering outlawing here? Being a dick? You want to outlaw being a dick on the internet?

      HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAHA

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I, for one, have to been able to get /b/ to load all day.

        So maybe they already have.

      • Re:Bad precedent... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Capsaicin (412918) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:48PM (#24490373)

        What kind of behavior are you considering outlawing here? Being a dick? You want to outlaw being a dick on the internet?

        I can't speak for OP, but the behaviour we might want to look at is not simply being a dick, but conducting a calculated and sustained campaign of harrassment intended, with malice. to inflict serious physical &/or psychological damage on a specific individual. We might even want to extend it to a class of individuals to account for 'behaviours' such as planting epilepsy inducing graphics on epilepsy support boards and the like.

        I agree with OP, that twisting an existing law for fear that this woman might get away with what she has done, when clearly she should not, is not an acceptable solution.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cayenne8 (626475)
          "I agree with OP, that twisting an existing law for fear that this woman might get away with what she has done, when clearly she should not, is not an acceptable solution."

          Yep..I mean it has happened before...awhile back, I think it was in L.A., where a guy had hidden video recording equipment in peoples' homes, and was recording them having sex and whatnot...when caught, it caused a big uproar, but, in the end, there was no law against what he did. They pretty much had to let him go, but, passed laws con

    • by PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:00PM (#24489855) Journal
      That idiot will win her trial, and get away almost scot-free. Which sucks.

      I'm sure she'll never get a real job ever again, though. In a job interview, question 2 will be "Wait... you're THE Lori Drew? That psycho-bitch?"
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CastrTroy (595695)
        I doubt anybody will remember her name. I've heard about the case many times before, and couldn't recall the name of the accused. If you ask me tomorrow, I will probably have forgotten the name again by them. Sure I could just Google every potential person I plan to hire. But a lot of employers don't do that.
    • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:16PM (#24490039)
      While I think this is a sad story, and I feel for all involved, I simply cannot agree that a new law should be made to handle this case and charge the mother. Yes - she did a horrible thing. Yes - it is likely a cause that pushed the teen over the edge. No - it could not have in any stretch of imagination been the one sole contributing factor to the death. A straw on the camels back? Perhaps. But I think that anyone can clearly see the failure of logic in charging someone for a felony for placing a straw on the camels back, when there is in fact a bulging load there already.

      Speaking from personal experience, you don't get that depressed from a single person posting on a website/sending emails. You don't go from being a happy-go-lucky normal individual to a suicidal person overnight, over a month or likely even over a year. I started being depressed often from the age of about ten or eleven. I had a suicide attempt when I was twenty three. I do not blame anyone directly. I was in a bad place, and in retrospect the problem lay totally with ME. Why can't people learn to look at their own issues before pointing fingers and pushing blame to everyone else so quickly?
      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Did you read about the Greyhound bus killer [theglobeandmail.com]? Seems that in certain cases people can go from zero to crazy in 4.6 seconds. Not all the details are out yet, but it seems like the accused in the greyhound case went from normal to cannibalistic killer in a matter of a few days. No word if there was even a trigger yet which caused him to snap.
      • Why can't people learn to look at their own issues before pointing fingers and pushing blame to everyone else so quickly?

        When you do that there's no opportunity for a media circus, so people who would set good examples are never heard.

      • Re:Bad precedent... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by anotherzeb (837807) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:52PM (#24490431)
        What sounds like a campaign lasting a few months to build up, then knock down a teenage kid and then spreading malicious gossip about the kid sounds like enough to count for a lot of straws to me. the kid may not have been the happiest ever, but a medium term campaign like the one described is enough to get a stable person onto the prozac. You say you've been there or near enough and seen how to solve your own problems. I'm pleased for you and maybe this doesn't apply to you but problems caused by other people can easily be just as important as personal problems when it comes to someone taking their own life. I've been there too and I know that working on your own problems can only fix things if a person's environment is right - or at least not so bad that a person gets knocked down whenever they try to get up. The environment in this case included someone who was clearly malicious towards the kid, which is hardly a good one in which to fix any problems a person might have. If you're looking for a last straw, I'd go for the argument with her mum about using myspace

        Don't you have any harassment or bullying laws over there that the woman could be tried under? A computer was used for these purposes, as well as impersonation - if a cape and mask were used, would there have to be a cape and mask law for the woman to be tried under?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by catmistake (814204)

          Thanks for posting, most others seem to think it was a single act that brought the charges, and that isn't true. There is such a thing as felony harrassment, and currently there are a few MySpace felony harrassment cases being prosecuted. This case seems particularly heiness, so maybe prosectors believe that its just not a strong enough charge... they want blood. I don't know the details, but I think its likely this is one of the "lesser included charges." Lying, apparently, is protected by free speech, unl

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DaveV1.0 (203135)

      Obtaining access by fraud is a felony. She lied to get access, therefore she obtained access by fraud. Therefore she committed a felony, QED.

      • Re:Bad precedent... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:23PM (#24490121)

        Next time I fill in a fake name or address signing up on a web site I should be charged with a felony?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Not necessarily; doing so requires an effort entirely disproportionate with the consequences of the fraud you committed. The State shouldn't prosecute you because there's no reason to- you didn't get anything out of it and neither will the State.

          In this case, however, that's not true. This is where prosecutor's discretion does come into play.

    • by nebaz (453974)

      I meant to say create a new law to handle future cases, and just let this one go. New laws can not be retroactively applied.

  • So (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:52PM (#24489763)
    Would it be as big a deal if someone did this through the mail? I don't see why new technology also needs new laws, so I would hope there would be no legal precedent set for computer specific harassment.
    • Re:So (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:56PM (#24489813)

      You're not likely to have an ongoing conversation with a fictitious person through the mail to the point that you think of them as your boyfriend.

      The nature of the internet does make kinds of assholish behavior possible that were previously impractical.

      • by Skadet (528657)

        The nature of the internet does make kinds of assholish behavior possible that were previously impractical.

        impractical != impossible

        Tell me, what IS the punishment for the assholish behaviour when the medium is snail-mail?

        Wait... wait, you're saying that there's a punishment for being an asshole?

  • by bagboy (630125) <neo&arctic,net> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:54PM (#24489785)
    in my opinion. You do not have the right to torment an individual like this anymore than you have a right to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater or "I have a bomb" in an airport. AT some point, the safety of others does override your right to "free" speech.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by at_slashdot (674436)

      If I tell you to jump out of building will you jump? Who is guilty if you decide to jump?

    • by xigxag (167441)

      Your examples don't compare to what happened here.

      First of all, if I yell "fire" in a crowded theater, the results are predictable. There will be a panic and some people will suffer physical injury. Any reasonable person can see that. Second, some of the people who get hurt may be innocent, trampled by others due to events entirely outside of their control.

      In this case, one could not have necessarily predicted that Lori Drew's torments would result in the girl's suicide. Nor was the girl completely inno

    • by Virak (897071) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:41PM (#24490303) Homepage

      Their argument is that by breaking MySpace's TOS she is gaining unauthorized access to the site (i.e., hacking it), and can be charged for that. If you don't see why this is a very bad thing, and can't be bothered to RTFA, I'll quote the relevant bits for you:

      The EFF says that a MySpace user doesn't gain unauthorized access to MySpace's servers by disregarding the ToS, which is what the DoJ's reading of the CFAA would criminalize. Additionally, the groups argue that the legislative history of the CFAA supports the view that it's meant to prevent trespass and theft on computers or computer networks, not improper motives or use. The EFF and CDT believe that holding Drew criminally liable for violating MySpace's ToS would be an "extraordinary and dangerous extension of federal criminal law," as it would turn practically everyone into federal criminals.

      They point out that even checking out the popular dating site Match.com for the mere purpose of research into this case would have turned the brief's author into a criminal, as she is married and the ToS prohibits those who are not single or separated from using the site. "[T]he Government's theory would attach criminal penalties to minors under the age of 18 who use the Google search engine, as well as to many individuals who legitimately exercise their First Amendment rights to speak anonymously online," adds the brief. Although the groups agree that Meier's death was a tragedy and that there is a heavy desire to hold Drew accountable for her actions, they believe the First Amendment rights of citizens outweigh the "overbroad" interpretation of the CFAA in order to prosecute her, and urge the court to dismiss the indictment.

  • Bad events make bad laws. Just read the story below this one. Though this may be more in the way of bad case law. That said, I think this woman's behavior is so beyond the pale that she deserves to be featured in a Lifetime movie at the least. And her head stuck on a pike to remind the next 5 generations that some behaviors are so reprehensible that you shouldn't do them.
    • by Skadet (528657)

      And her head stuck on a pike to remind the next 5 generations that some behaviors are so reprehensible that you shouldn't do them.

      How do you characterize her behavior?

      Asshole-ish? Dickish? Immature? Sociopathic?

      ...Can you point me to the law that makes it illegal to be a bitch? I really don't get it.

  • by religious freak (1005821) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:59PM (#24489853)
    There should be nothing that compels this case to be brought up under ANY modern legislation pertaining computers. Computers and social networking were the means of the harassment... this does not mean there are any new concepts here.

    Harassment and emotional abuse can be performed in person or over the Internet, and I've got to imagine that charges for wanton malicious actions against a minor will have much stiffer penalties than a simple ToS violation.

    I don't mean to be too jaded here, but it doesn't much sense to me to be bringing an uncertain case against someone with a new law, unless the prosecuting attorney is seeking a landmark decision to put on a resume.

    Certainly there must be a better choice than a new law when the actions of one lead another (esp. a minor) to suicide?
  • Um, no. (Score:2, Informative)

    by DaveV1.0 (203135)

    A private individual or company (they) does not have to let one exercise one's free speach right. They do not have to let someone else use my system or website to expound ideas They do not agree with. And, They have the right to condition access to same on not expounding those ideas.

    That is part of freedom of speach and freedom of association.

    They also have the right to condition access on being truthful. By lying to obtain access, one exceeds one's access. It is obtaining access by fraud. It just happens t

  • Civil Case (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PakProtector (115173) <cevkiv@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:08PM (#24489939) Journal

    The girl's family should sue this woman in Civil Court for the wrongful death of their daughter. The burden of proof is much lower in civil court than in criminal, and they could ruin this woman for the rest of her life -- which is a hell of a lot more than she deserves, because she still gets to draw breath, but their daughter doesn't. And there daughter would still be alive today if not for this woman's depraved actions.

  • so short sited. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:09PM (#24489945) Journal
    The thing about any censorship laws, especially on obscenity, is that it is up to individuals to decide what gets censored. Tub girl is obscene and "shouldn't" be shown on kids shows, but when you make laws saying you "can't" it gets into a tricky spot.

    There are individuals who would say it is obscene to see white women kissing black men, and at one point in time they may have had a large enough majority to make it law if they had the legal means to invalidate the right of free speech. If you have any infringement on the right to free speech based on what is right or wrong, or inflammatory, you risk completly destroying that right and making it just a privilege.

    This case has a girl that was harmed in a new way that no law exists to properly prosecute. It shows the need for new laws, not the destruction of old rights. We have protection to these rights because of these kinds of actions, If it is OK to throw out rights based on criminal offenses then it's possible to throw them out on others.
  • Teenage suicide is down lower than it has been for years. We have given teenagers the tools to reach out to other peers and express their feelings. Suicide is a real problem that has been arround long before social networks and will remain long after.
    In the case of an adult posing as a young teenager to manipulate and violate the poor teenage girl, tipping her over the edge of an already uneasy situation and pushing her to suicide is murder!

    Kids are mean to other kids, thats the nature of the game, if you

    • So whenever someone says anything mean to me, and it makes me depressed, I have the right to sue back? Or if I incidentally kill myself over it because I"m an overly-sensitive person or I can't take criticize well at all, they should have a case?

      It's a very dangerous precedent to send people to jail or otherwise censor what people can say or do because it might cause someone to hurt themselves (due to their own emotions, or whatnot). If I told someone to simply shoot themself and they went and did it, sho

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:19PM (#24490081)

    The point isn't that the lady said bad things that drove a kid to suicide, or that the lady used the internet to do it. The lady should be subject to ordinary liability for that--just like any person who did the same thing on the street, or in the mail, or whatever. That's not the issue.

    The issue is the terms of service agreement! That thing you click on and ignore so many times. That thing you send phony information so that the corporation doesn't get too personal on you!

    If you type in phony information, (FRAUD, daddy), and then hurt somebody's feelings while on the account procured by fraud, the Federales can prosecute you for a crime. Think about the slippery slope this affords . . .

    You gotta love the ingenuity of those federal prosecutors!

  • by GuyverDH (232921) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:24PM (#24490133)

    You have the right to say anything, and be heard, however, what you say can get you into trouble.
    If you don't like the war, and you protest, and make speeches that the war is bad, and that you think the president is mistaken, that's protected under the freedom of speech.
    If you don't like the war, and you protest, and make threats against the president, then you will be held accountable and the threats will be taken seriously.

    If you are a psychiatrist whose job it is to help people through emotional problems, and you tell your client - you're fucked up, chances are that not only will the patient not get better, but you will be sued, and if something happens to the patient, like suicide, then chances are you will be prosecuted in some form or other.

    If you are a normal person, who, by using a false identity, abuses someone or their character in such a way that it erodes their self-esteem, sense of self-worth, sense of self, to such a degree that they commit suicide, then you are most definitely guilty of abuse, both mental and emotional abuse, and should be held accountable as contributing to the death of said person.

    This would be the case regardless of the technology used. The only thing this technology granted was a sense of anonymity that was properly given up due to the bizarre circumstances of the case.

    If you were to stand at your fence in your backyard and belittle the child-next-door, calling them names, worthless, pieces of garbage, day in and day out, chances are you'd be faced with at least a law-suit if not a visit by the police. Why would doing this over the internet be any different? Should someone who intentionally abuses another person be protected just because they used the internet to do it? Should they expect a right to privacy or anonymity just because they tried to hide their identity before making those actions? I don't think so, and would hope that you wouldn't as well.

  • It's called hazing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fluffykitty1234 (1005053) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:24PM (#24490137)

    And a lot states already have laws against this...

    From the Texas law:
    "Any activity that intimidates or threatens the student with ostracism, that subjects the student to extreme mental stress, shame or humiliation"

    I know this was intended for fraternities/sororities, but I don't see anything in the writing that limits the law to colleges.

  • This case amounts to good old fashioned harrasment. Just because it was done with ... OMG ... A COMPUTER ... doesn't mean that you need to drag out irrelevant laws that shouldn't apply in this situation.

  • by voss (52565) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:37PM (#24490265)

    criminal charges

    Child Endangerment- The suicide of the girl was a reasonably forseeable consequence...at the very least its an issue for a jury.

    Then use a charge of felony child endangerment as the basis for "felony murder" charges

    on the basis of
    State of Minnesota vs.Tasha Daphne Mitchell(2005)

    Civil charges

    intentional inflictional of emotional distress
    wrongful death

  • That is still around? I thought the government took that away a while ago.

  • by NimbleSquirrel (587564) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @12:09AM (#24491787)
    I don't believe free speech protections cover harassment. Lori Drew created the account with the specific intent of causing emotional harm to Megan Meier. Now, she had no way of knowing that Megan Meier was going to commit suicide, but that is beside the point: there was still the intent to cause harm.

    Free speech protects many things, but it does not provide a defense against harassment, and it does not provide a defense against a criminal act where there is shown to be malicious intent.

    While they can argue that what was said between Lori Drew and Megan Meier may have been covered by free speech, the fact that Lori Drew created a false identity (an identity crafted to appeal to Megan) shows that she knew her actions were morally wrong, if not legally wrong.

    Free speech may allow people to create online an alter ego or speak under a pseudonym, but I think that it can easily be proven that "Josh Evans" created by Lori Drew was neither an alter ego nor a pseudonym: 'he' was created to appeal as much as possible to Megan Meier.

    Free speech also does not change the fact that Lori Drew acted in breach of MySpace's conditions of use, and therefore was in breach of contract.

    While I respect the EFF and others for protecting free speech (even though I am not a US citizen), I do not believe that free speech laws should cover actions like this. Sure, this is not an isolated case and harassment like this is widespread in the Internet, but that does not mean that it is right.

  • A Few Misconceptions (Score:4, Informative)

    by demeteloaf (865003) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @12:28AM (#24491921)

    It seems like most of the replies here aren't fully informed about the issues of the case and are looking at the "free speech" in the subject the wrong way, so here's a brief overview.

    Originally the prosecution looked to charge her for harassment and/or threatening behavior. However, under the law at the time, her speech was considered protected speech, and the prosecution decided that they didn't have a case for harassment. (The law has since been amended so if she did that now, she could very easily charged).

    The prosecution ultimately decided to indict her [wired.com] using an anti-hacking law that prevents "unauthorized access to a computer." The argument is that by misrepresenting herself on myspace, she violated the Terms of Service. Therefore, her access to Myspace's Servers was unauthorized, and she committed a felony by using myspace while violating their ToS. The indictment is not for harassment/threatening behavior. It's for breaking the ToS of a website, which the hacking law has never been used for before.

    As the EFF amicus brief points out, if violating the ToS of a site is criminal behavior, this has far reaching implications. Google has something in their Terms of Service that says you have to be 18 to use google. According to the prosecution in this case, anyone under 18 who does a google search is a felon. Facebook's ToS has a provision that says you must keep all information in your profile up to date. If i change my favorite movie and don't update my facebook account promptly, i'm a felon.

    This is not an issue of harassment vs. free speech. I think we all agree that Lori Drew is an ass and ideally, she should be punished. However, don't try and get her on an obscure law that will have far reaching implications. Violating the terms of service on a website (which a large majority of people don't even read fully) should not be a criminal offense. That's what this case is seeking to do

  • by resignator (670173) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @02:08AM (#24492489)
    If Lori Drew had used a voice changer and a prepay cellphone I honestly believe all of America would be out to lynch her by now. What makes the internet so different?

    Lori mounted a systematic and cruel attack to inflict emotional harm on a minor over a period of months. This goes far beyond name calling or a prank. It was deliberate and it was designed to harm. The tools used to harass have little to do with the case in my opinion.

    Is Lori is responsible for the child's death? Perhaps, but how do you determine the weight of her contribution? I for one have no idea and personally believe no one can say that with any certainty.

    What seems rather clear to me is an act of child abuse, harassment, and fraud.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Urkki (668283)

      Time to burn some karma...

      I think it's 'cos so many here do or have done something like that in the Internet... So they're scared for the consequences of their own actions, desperately crying after their free speech to impersonate and to bully "losers" without fear of taking any responsibility. To them, "freedom" means "freedom of responsibility"...

      Then a whole different class of murderer sympathisers are those who believe that weak deserve to die if they're as weak as the girl here. Some of these might eve

  • get the law straight (Score:3, Informative)

    by TRRosen (720617) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @03:11AM (#24492851)

    This law does not make violating the terms of service a felony. The fraud perpetrated to gain access is only one element of the crime. You only end up falling under this law, in this case, if you use said access to commit a further crime(in this case harassment).

You have a tendency to feel you are superior to most computers.

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