Say goodbye to anonymity on the web
There is a court case going on in the United States that could potentially make everyone with an alias or an anonymous account at any of the many social media sites a criminal. Anyone following the Lori Drew case will know what I am talking about. For those of you who don’t here’s a short back story.
Back at the beginning of the year a young girl by the name of Megan Meier committed suicide after being turned on by a young man with whom she had become close to on MySpace. It turns out though that the young man never existed but was in fact a fake persona created on MySpace by Lori Drew. Now the interesting thing is that this woman wasn’t alone in the perpetration of the hoax. In fact many of Megan’s neighbours; along with Drew, were in on this terrible hoax that ended in the death of a fine young lady.
No one; least wise myself, is saying what was done is right but as is human nature there is a rising crescendo of voices calling for blood with the most attention being directed at Lori Drew. The only problem was that there was nothing that state law enforcement could charge her with as she really hadn’t broken any crime. At that point the federal government stepped in and said they would charge her.
So what did they charge with?
How about “conspiracy and fraudulently gaining access to someone else’s computer”.
Yup .. that’s it and as much of a twist of the laws as it might be this is exactly what they got indictments against Ms. Drew which has more than a few legal scholars a little worried. the one thing that was in Lori Drew’s favour though was that the judge hearing the case had originally said that any evidence relating to Megan Meier’s suicide would be excluded from the trial. Considering that the young girl’s death had nothing to do with whether any computer fraud laws were broken this made sense.
Unfortunately though the judge has now reverse his decision and this evidence will be allowed. In light of how emotionally charged this whole matter is evidence such as this will make it very hard for a fair trial to be heard on the charge of computer fraud; as that is the only charge against Lori Drew.
So how does this affect any use of anonymous accounts or aliases?
Well consider that the only thing Lori Drew did was to set up an account on MySpace under an alias it would make anyone who has done the same thing potentially guilty of the same charge as the one facing Ms. Drew. The same could apply to all those alias account set up on Twitter, Facebook etc etc – they would all be breaking the law and subject to criminal charges.
As Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins pointed out in a post at WinExtra recently even Kevin Rose who set up a Twitter account for the cold he had could be charged with the same thing as Lori Drew. As bad as the circumstances are that surround this whole thing the fact is that Lori Drew is only guilty of is being a mean cruel bitch but that doesn’t break any laws. However if she is found guilty because of the emotions surround this case it would mean that in the future anyone who does something stupid while using an alias; or posting anonymously, could be found guilty and sent to prison.
If that doesn’t send a chill up your back I don’t know what will because this is setting a very bad precedent against something that is a natural part of using the Internet.