By Amela Zukic
You can relax for now. Sharing your Netflix password probably won’t get you in trouble anytime soon. Though you may have had some anxiety this past summer following the Ninth Circuit’s decision in United States v. Nosal, in which the appellate court, in a 2-1 decision, held that the sharing of passwords could be found to be a federal crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Social media went into frenzy over the possible implications of its decision regarding the legality of sharing Netflix passwords. While this decision is unlikely to have an immediate effect on users of streaming services such as Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, etc., the long-term repercussions remain unclear.
The CFAA, also known as the “worst law in technology,” renders unauthorized access of computers a federal crime. Under the CFAA, anyone who, “knowingly and with intent to defraud, accesses a protected computer without authorization” can be convicted. Yet, “unauthorized access” is not defined within the scope of the CFAA. This, therefore, leaves judges with the utmost discretion when interpreting the meaning of “unauthorized access.” The CFAA was initially drafted to criminalize the activities of hackers, but it is now increasingly being used to criminalize activities the public would consider normal – such as password sharing.
By Gwen Wei
In 2012, three underage girls sued Backpage, a classified advertising website. The plaintiffs—anonymized as the collective “J.S.”—alleged that they had been forced by sex traffickers to prostitute themselves; that these traffickers had posted advertisements on Backpage, allowing adults seeking sex with minors to pay to rape J.S.; that Backpage had created posting guidelines designed to help such traffickers develop ads that would evade law enforcement while still conveying their illegal messages. In so doing, J.S. alleged, the website had contributed to J.S.’s repeated sexual assaults and exploitation.
By Tyler Quillin
The most important law governing the internet just had its 20th birthday earlier this year, the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the CDA grants online service providers immunity from liability for most illegal activities of their users. What’s more, the CDA not only allows large internet-based companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Yelp! to survive because they don’t have to individually each user’s activity, it also enables a large portion of the freedom of speech the general public enjoys online daily.
Yet, despite 20 years of precedent, the CDA has come under scrutiny. Most notably, a California appellate court issued a ruling that included an order for Yelp!, a nonparty to the case, to take down a defamatory post involving an attorney who sued a former client for posting defamatory comments and reviews on Yelp!. Along with the court order to take down the reviews, the attorney won on a default judgment to the tune of over $500,000.
By Jessy Nations
Our legal system was not designed with the internet in mind. The framers of the Constitution never thought that nude photos of themselves or anyone else would be published world-wide without their consent. They never even imagined being photographed. So when a mob of rabid misogynists harassed and threatened Zoe Quinn on social media, it should not be surprising that the legal system couldn’t protect her. If anything, seeking legal remedies for a relentless stream of graphic death and rape threats made matters worse for Ms. Quinn. Our legal system is much less about protection and more about punishment. Ms. Quinn is the target of the #Gamergate movement. This began after her ex-boyfriend used the internet (through platforms like reddit and 4chan) to allege that Ms. Quinn slept with a journalist in exchange for a positive review of her game entitled Depression Quest. Despite the fact that this review was never actually written, the response was swift, violent, and unrelenting. Because a game developer was accused of sleeping with a journalist for a positive review, people all over the world sent Ms. Quinn death threats, rape threats, published her personal information, and harassed her friends and family for two years; and this harassment is still ongoing. Continue reading