How Reading This Post Could Land You In Jail Someday

Like many sites, BigThink has a Terms of Use section. If certain members of Congress have their way, an amended Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could make violating those terms a criminal offense.

What's the Latest Development?

Congress may vote on changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) as soon as this week, and several of those changes have activists up in arms, including one that would treat any violation of a Web site's Terms of Use policy as a criminal act. This could threaten minors with a new kind of Internet danger: For example, all news Web sites operated by the Hearst Corporation -- including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle, among others -- explicitly state that readers must be aged 18 or over. Under the new version of the CFAA, any minor caught accessing these sites could theoretically face prosecution.

What's the Big Idea?

The CFAA was originally passed in 1984 as a response to computer hacking, and while many things have changed since then, the alterations currently being proposed by the House Judiciary Committee could transform the way many people, not just minors, use the Internet. In a 2012 decision on employee rights concerning workplace Internet use, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge Alex Kozinski wrote that, despite the likelihood that most cases wouldn't be prosecuted, "seldom-prosecuted crimes invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement." Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are suggesting CFAA alternatives and encouraging people to contact their elected congressman.

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