CFAA – a bad law that just won’t go away

I recently decided that the fact I hadn’t watched the movie WarGames (1983) that inspired the draconian (I’ll be honest I had to look up that word) Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was unacceptable for someone who is passionate about CFAA reform, so I legally purchased a digital copy (obviously) and watched it, fully expecting some techy scenes that would explain why politicians would go to such extreme measures to silence activists, reporters, researchers and artists. What I saw was less scary. I saw a boy trying to play a game, speaking to his computer in some computer language I am almost sure doesn’t exist (at the very least didn’t exist in the 80’s). I saw a production about the government using technology that they didn’t understand with nuclear missile codes that could be cracked in 5 minutes and in the end the only one that could save the world from certain destruction was… wait for it… the 17-year-old “hacker”.

Do you remember the Scooby Doo cartoons where at the end of every mystery the villain would say “and I would’ve succeeded too if it weren’t for those pesky kids!”? That’s a fitting reaction to young people finding themselves in an unintended bind or who has committed an act of civil disobedience. The proverbial slap on the wrist and finger wag all the while holding back a chuckle at the things these kids get themselves into. Do you know what isn’t a logical reaction to someone peacefully protesting an unjust rule? For starters, charging them with 35 years in prison and a million dollars in fines! That’s not even mentioning the financial burden of fighting these ridiculous charges! So why the overreaction? The president at the time was no stranger to Hollywood drama, he was an actor for many years – yes, many of his films were recorded before they had the technology to make movies in color, but that’s beside the point. Or is it?

During the time activists and internet users were fighting SOPA, Congress repeatedly called to “bring in the nerds” to explain this “internets” thing to geriatric law makers who just couldn’t wrap their heads around the global reach of the world wide web. These uninformed representatives of the American people that are forming laws and boundaries for a community they know nothing about, these people are the issue. The world we live in now is not the horse pulled carriage of days past where technology was a silly game the kids played but didn’t really impact the grown-up world of business, politics and finance. Today technology is everywhere, it has evolved our existence from counting with an abacus and handing down hand copied books and stories to our communities. It has given us the power to conduct business at the speed of light and provided the technological power to get way more done in less time from anywhere on the planet. Those kids playing with technology in the corner while grown people did the real important work grew up and the technology they played with grew up too, and it has shaped the world we live in. The world has changed but we still are stuck fighting people on common sense issues that have kept them stuck in the past. So, the question strays from “how do we get these lawmakers to understand the new world we live in?” to “why aren’t we electing more officials that are technologically savvy and have embraced the way of the future?” At some point, I wonder if we have forgotten what real freedom is and that elected officials weren’t put there to rule the public as much as they were voted-in to represent the public and its best interests. Society should not live in fear of tyrannical governments and laws, those in government should be the ones in fear. Their careers are in the hands of citizens and voters, we need to get back to a time where representatives represent their constituents.

I cannot tell you how many times my parents when they were alive would call me to come “fix their computer.” Usually it was something silly like a lost icon from the desktop or the phone cord not being plugged into the 56k dial up modem, but every time they would throw up their hands and wait for one of us “kids” to come by and fix that broken appliance (Don’t get me started on how many times I was asked to program their VCR as a kid). Each time they would go on and on about how “smart” us kids were and all I could think at the time was how simple these things were and how they had such trouble grasping new technology. Truth is, this technological world we live in is unrecognizable to the world many of our parents, grandparents and representatives in DC grew up in, and that’s okay, but keeping these people in office who are so deeply in the dark about the state of our planet and country is illogical.

Over 30 years after the CFAA was enacted, we are still fighting a seemingly losing battle to try and fix the damage done by legislators who harshly (over) reacted to a story on a movie screen. It would almost be comical if countless people, some of which showed legitimate promise to help change the world we live in for the better, hadn’t been and still are having their lives ruined by an outdated law that was badly researched before enacting. This new world we live in does have good people that understand technology and the capabilities it holds, unfortunately we are still watching many of them be targeted and prosecuted by a society fighting the future. We have lost enough! Too many good people who are trying to do right, people who are helping others, peaceful protestors being turned into felons and the only people who benefit from it are the large corporations who use the law as a weapon to further line their pockets and raise their Net worth.

Please contact your representatives and tell them it is time for CFAA reform and a good starting point for that is to enact Aaron’s Law. It is time to stand up to the legislators and big corporations who place more importance on money than they do human life and who continue to viciously abuse the vague terms of this horribly written law to silence people standing up for the right things. In the words of Aaron Swartz, “It’s up to you.”

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