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Lori Drew Case Could Expand Computer Fraud Law

Publication Date: 
June 18, 2009
Missouri Lawyers Weekly
Kelly Wiese

Residential Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society M. Ryan Calo is quoted in Missouri Lawyers Weekly in an article about the conviction of Lori Drew, a Missouri woman who created a false identity on MySpace. Drew used the fraudulant account to harass a 13-year-old girl who was a former friend of her daughter. The 13-year-old girl later committed suicide. Legal experts question whether Drew's conviction will stand. Missouri Lawyers Weekly writes:

Ryan Calo, a residential fellow at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, said if the Drew conviction stands, it could put a serious curb on anonymous online speech, as many Web sites say people must register using their real names.

"Terms of service are generally written to protect a company from civil liability if someone violates them," he said, "but now have become a door for federal prosecution."

"It would be the prosecution that would decide how these terms of service that they didn't write, whether they've been violated," Calo said. "The person that's being harmed can be anybody."

But Calo said it's tough to write the laws more precisely because they must be flexible enough to adapt as new technology emerges.

"It's dangerous precisely because it's already a relatively amorphous statute because of the nature of what it's trying to regulate," he said. "To add to this idea the novel theories of prosecution is just really, really dangerous."