Internet Law

Judge Overturns Conviction of Lori Drew in Cyberbullying Case

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A federal judge has overturned the misdemeanor conviction of a Missouri mother accused of helping to drive a neighboring teen to suicide by posing as a teenage boy who wooed then rejected the girl on MySpace.

U.S. District Judge George Wu ruled Friday in the case of Lori Drew that violating a website’s terms of use was not enough to sustain a conviction under a federal law barring access to computers without authorization, the Volokh Conspiracy reports. Drew was convicted under the law’s misdemeanor provisions but acquitted of more serious felony charges that required the computer user to violate the unauthorized access law in furtherance of a criminal or tortious act.

Wu reasoned that applying misdemeanor provisions of the statute to Drew would mean anyone who has ever violated a website’s terms of service could be found guilty of a crime. Such a reading of the statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, would make it unconstitutionally vague, he wrote in his opinion (PDF posted by the Volokh Conspiracy).

Wu, a Los Angeles federal judge, had indicated in July that he planned to overturn the conviction.

The author of the Volokh Conspiracy post, George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, argued the defense motion to dismiss the case against Drew in January.

“As you might guess, given all the pro bono efforts I put into this case, I am very pleased by the result,” he wrote. “This was an extremely important test case for the scope of the computer crime statutes, with tremendously high stakes for the civil liberties of every Internet user.”

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