By Mark O’Neill
A dangerous legal precedent could be set if a woman is convicted of harassing a clinically depressed girl on MySpace to later commit suicide. This is because the only crime in which prosecutors could charge the woman with was violating the MySpace Terms Of Service contract (TOS) which you agree to when you set up your MySpace profile for the first time.
Although what Lori Drew allegedly did to Megan Meier was despicable, it is a bit of a stretch to charge her with “unauthorized access” to MySpace’s computers. Since no cyber-bullying laws exist, they are using the fact that Drew used an account with false details to harass Meier – which is a violation of the MySpace TOS contract – to charge her under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In other words, because she failed to give her real name on her online profile, she’s screwed.
Why is this dangerous? Because if Drew is convicted for violating the TOS of MySpace, then ANYONE in the future caught violating the TOS of any website can also theoretically be charged under the same law. As the Wired Story says, some TOS prohibit you from saying negative things about the company. So if you say anything bad about MySpace, can you be charged with a crime? Other TOS’s have also banned linking. Is that a crime too?
How many online social network users use false names? Are all these people in violation of the law too? Do they all have to be arrested for violating MySpace?
More to the point, how many people actually read a TOS before clicking “I accept”? So how many people could commit a crime without realizing it?
As I said, if Drew is guilty, then I don’t condone what she did in any way. But in their over-zealousness to get a conviction for the Meier family, prosecutors may have gone a bit too far.
So next time you are presented with a TOS on the screen, you might want to hesitate a few moments longer before clicking “I accept”.