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Proposed Amendment to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) Would Expand Prosecutorial Powers, Allow Government to Go After Attempted Hackers

Senator Patrick Leahy wants to strengthen cybercrime law and nationalize data safety hygiene. His intentions are commendable. But his proposed tactics… questionable.

Leahy recently (re)-introduced the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act to Congress. The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee has introduced this Act five times since 2005. If it becomes law, it would have profound consequences for cybercrime defendants in Florida and beyond. In particular, it would expand the reach of the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) -- which many analysts argue is way too broad already -- and allow prosecutors to go after attempted hackers with punishments currently reserved for convicted hackers.

This expansion could lead to more people jailed for computer crimes and more needlessly tragic situations.

Consider the case of Aaron Swartz, an open source activist who hacked into an archive of scholarly resources at MIT. Swartz didn’t damage any infrastructure or even share the data he collected. Yet prosecutors looked forward to slamming him with a 30-plus year jail sentence. [Many people convicted of murder, rape, and other very violent crimes in Florida don’t get anywhere near to a 30-year jail sentence.] While awaiting his federal trial, Swarz killed himself.

Aaron Swartz’s father railed at MIT leadership, accusing the university of being anything but a neutral arbitrator. He says the university actively assisted prosecutors to bring down his son. Mr. Swartz contends that, had MIT been more neutral, his son would still be alive today.

Civil Liberties advocates may not be fond of the idea of expanding the CFAA. But what’s the rationale for wanting to do so? Leahy and others argue that dire cyberthreats require dire solutions. They point to recent breaches of big institutions, like Experian and Target, which may have allowed millions of pieces of key personal information to get into the hands of criminals.

Leahy and others argue that, by strengthening the CFAA and allowing prosecutors to go after attempted hackers with harsher penalties, the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act might dissuade would-be cyber criminals from acting.

Leahy et. al's arguments are flawed and shortsighted. But their aggressive actions indicate how important it is for anyone charged under the CFAA to get effective, thorough legal assistance.

There are ways to fight back against overly aggressive prosecutors. To get clear about the options and strategic opportunities for your Florida cyber crime defense, call the Seltzer Mayberg, LLC team at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (888-843-3333) today to set up a free, confidential case evaluation with us. We are available 24x7 to take your call.

Categories: Cyber Crimes
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