The Missouri Mom (Lori Drew) case — Privacy Issues and New Legal Theories ?

May 22nd, 2008

As the news media have all reported, Lori Drew has been indicted for her role in the death of a teenager. You may recall that this person, with her daughter and her friend, created a fake MySpace account, pretend to befriend another teen, and then “dump” her. The other teen committed suicide.  Opinions are split on whether being mean to a person, even to a kid, is a criminal offense that should lead to prosecution, as opposed to societal opprobrium.

What interested me however that of the four counts of the indictment, three had to do with violating the Terms of Service –in particular creating a fake profile, and using this fake profile to obtain information from the server. This was done under federal laws that criminalize unauthorized access — things like hacking into a server. So does this mean that the legal theory being advanced by the US Attorney for the Central District of California is that creating a fake account on an internet service is criminalizable if the ToS of the provider say that you should give accurate information ?  Certainly many experts that USA Today talked to seem to think so. No more creating accounts with fictitious names at newspaper sites that many people can use ? How about using the right name, but messing up some of the information ( income level, demographics) at each site so that they can’t datamine you ? Or not providing the right contact information (, so that they can’t sell it to telemarketers ? Or any of the various other things that people routinely do in terms of providing incomplete or incorrect information. The penalty now can be criminal, not just a shutting down of access to the site concerned. Hmmm…….