What Is Aaron's Law?
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What Is Aaron's Law?

4 Min.

The term "Aaron's Law" refers to a bill proposed in the U.S. Congress but did not become law. However, it continues to be significant in legal conversations about the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The internet pioneer and activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide while being prosecuted for information crimes and might have received a 35-year jail term. Many people have cited Swartz's case as proof that the CFAA requires significant changes. This is because the law is too unclear and can be interpreted too broadly, leading to unfair consequences.

Basics

Introduced in 2013, Aaron's Law symbolizes a bill brought forth to the United States Congress. Despite its failure to pass, the bill's name honors Aaron Swartz—an eminent internet innovator and activist who faced charges and convictions for breaching the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The CFAA is important in regulating legal and ethical practices concerning computerized information and documents across various business domains.

What Is Aaron's Law?

After the untimely death of Aaron Swartz, a renowned internet activist, California Representative Zoe Lofgren proposed a significant legislative initiative called Aaron's Law. This legislative proposal aimed to rectify the flaws embedded within the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, which had garnered significant controversy over the years.

Aaron's Law emerged as a response to Swartz's untimely demise, as he faced the possibility of a 35-year prison sentence for his involvement in the unauthorized downloading of millions of academic articles, exclusively accessible through subscription services. Recognizing the need for reform, Representative Lofgren put forth Aaron's Law to amend the CFAA, ensuring a more just and equitable approach to combating cybercrime.

The CFAA, often subject to periodic amendments by Congress, experienced notable revisions in 1989, 1994, 1996, and 2002. Furthermore, the profound influence of the controversial U.S. Patriot Act in 2001, as well as the ramifications of the 2008 Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act, further shaped the scope and application of the CFAA.

Nonetheless, proponents of the unsuccessful Aaron's Law contended that the CFAA suffered from a profound vagueness, enabling individuals to face imprisonment for mere violations of terms of service. Additionally, the presence of redundant provisions within the CFAA allowed for multiple charges against an individual for the same offense, leading to cumulative penalties and disproportionately severe punishments. Recognizing these flaws, Aaron's Law sought to revise the language of the CFAA, ensuring that penalties for the illegal downloading of copyrighted material were both proportionate and reflective of the material's value.

By championing Aaron's Law, Representative Lofgren aimed to address these systemic shortcomings, striving for a more balanced and fair approach to dealing with cybercrime while respecting the boundaries of digital ethics.

Aaron Swartz's Legacy and the Origins of Legislative Reform

The passing of Aaron Swartz, a renowned internet activist and influential figure in the technology field, became the driving force behind the creation of transformative legislation. Swartz's arrest in January 2011 on charges related to Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violations marked a pivotal moment in his life. While celebrated for his contributions to developing the RSS protocol and various innovative endeavors, Swartz also espoused progressive political causes.

The circumstances surrounding Swartz's arrest were rooted in his endeavor to download academic journal articles from JSTOR, which he accessed from an unmarked and unlocked closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although JSTOR opted not to pursue charges following a civil settlement, the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's Office decided to press forward with the case.

Breaking-and-entering charges soon escalated to federal allegations, including four felonies like wire fraud. Swartz was confronted with a staggering thirteen CFAA violations as the legal battle unfolded, carrying the potential for a 50-year prison sentence and up to $1 million in fines. Despite declining a plea bargain and presenting a counteroffer to the prosecution, Swartz tragically took his own life in his Brooklyn residence.

The profound impact of Swartz's death reverberated through the corridors of legislation, prompting a reevaluation of the legal framework surrounding cybercrime and digital ethics. It catalyzed advocates to push for reforms that would address the ambiguities and harsh penalties associated with the CFAA, ensuring a more just and proportionate system for addressing cyber-related offenses.

Conclusion

Aaron's Law serves as a significant testament to the lasting impact of Aaron Swartz and the pressing need for legislative reform. Swartz's tragic fate, faced with the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence, shed light on the flaws and shortcomings of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The vagueness and broad interpretation of the law have raised concerns among many who argue for its revision. The case of Aaron Swartz has become a rallying point for advocates seeking fairer and more equitable treatment within the realm of cybercrime. As discussions continue, the legacy of Aaron Swartz and the pursuit of meaningful changes to the CFAA shape the ongoing dialogue surrounding legal and ethical conduct in the digital age.

Aaron's Law
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
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