Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Absurdity

The WSJ recently published an article titled “Should Faking a Name on Facebook Be a Felony?” There are even web pages that help you become someone else.  What do you think about this?  I’m convinced this computer honesty discussion is getting overblown by unthoughtful purists, legislators trying to make something right in an arena they do not understand.

  • If a competitor website states “you’re not authorized to read our website,” reading their website breaks their “terms of use” and you can be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
  • A coworker asks “How much is your salary?”  Many companies forbid trading this information among coworkers in their terms of employment. So why should I have to answer honestly if a web pages employment app asks me the question?
  • Sworn in court, do you have to be honest?  Society assumes yes. However, let me assure you the entire Court system is set up with deep assumptions that everybody is lying.
  • Do I have to answer a Police offer questioning you?  Society would mostly say yes. However, this is not a good answer.  Consider Miranda rights and the Fifth Amendment. There’s a reason such rules came into existence.
  • As computers and microprocessors come into all our appliances, the CFAA covers them, too. 
  • Is it a illegal to tape over the refrigerator light switch to keep it off while you have the door open?  Are you “lying to the fridge” ?  Sounds like a silly question, right?
  • If you tape over the refrigerator light interlock when there’s a microprocessor in the refrigerator, you are committing fraudulent input to a computer. Prosecutable under the CFAA. Still think I’m drawing the analogy too far?
  • How about if you spoof a SCADA computer system which is meant to monitor a little magnetic switch like the refrigerator door?  My friend, this is what the stuxnet virus did to Iranian uranium purifying centrifuges. This is pretty universally accepted as cyber act of war, and would definitely get you killed in Iran and prosecuted in America as treasonous.
  • How about if your classmate asks “what’s your name?”  Do you have to answer?  What if he’s a creepy man and you’re a woman?  Read on the internet how face recognition and 10 minutes can steal anybody’s identity.  I will advise my girls to NOT answer questions like these.
  • Facebook asks “age?” “address?”  Should you answer honestly? CFAA says yes.  Mind you, nobody really cares unless the government is trying to use Facebook information to track down bad guys.
  • What if your spouse asks “Where were you last night?”  In person, you make up an answer.  Send her an answer via email, and you’re a CFAA felon.
  • Who creates junk emails to receive spam email from web page signups? That’s prosecutable under CFAA.  Nonetheless, I’ll keep doing it until they figure out how to prosecute spammers.

An OpEd on generated a lot reader comments.  One message came from an author showing a dog as his face avatar.  Do you see the irony?

“I would prefer truth. If people HAD to provide their real names to sites they visited, they would be less likely to make asinine posts, less likely to ‘cheat’ on their spouses or ‘significant other’ and less likely to prey upon children via the internet. It would be better for internet sites to tighten themselves (like WSJ) than the government to police millions of ‘cheetas’.

Having lived around big government for a long time, I have become more jaded. Powers that be will get you if they want to get you. It’s that simple. For the Libertarians among us, you’ll appreciate the following quote:

“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Reardon, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.” (‘Atlas Shrugged’ 1957) ~Ayn Rand


About Brian

Engineer. Aviator. Educator. Scientist.
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