No more lying on the internet, people…

This is a fairly surreal side effect of some recent Access Hollywood type news:

Web site terms of service, which end users universally ignore, suddenly have teeth: violating them is a federal hacking offense, punishable with jail time. The days of being able to freely lie on the Web could be coming to an end. […]

The specifics of the Lori Drew case are messy and emotional. The important fact is that there is no federal cyberbullying statute, so the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles turned to a novel interpretation of existing computer hacking laws to try to punish the woman. The general idea is that in creating terms of service, a Web site owner specifies the rules of admission to the site. If someone violates any of those contractual terms, the “access” to the Web site is done without authorization, and is thus hacking.

It seems almost impossible that those higher strata of the courts will allow such a thing to hold. What would it even mean to criminalize lying per se? Some psychoanalysts identify lying as that which makes us human, insofar as animals cannot “pretend to pretend” (#; for a second opinion, see: #).

Until the Drew case is overturned, terms of service would appear to have the power of federal hacking laws to back them up, at least in cases where an ambitious federal prosecutor is interested in making a name for himself [or herself].

Back in March, I wrote about Google’s insane terms of service–which forbid the use of the site’s search engine, free e-mail service, or any of its other offerings by people under the age of 18. […] Match.com prohibits married persons from using the Web site to cheat on their spouses […] eHarmony takes this even further, forbidding its users from lying in their online profiles

A law which everyone has violated, subject to the whims of a vindictive and impersonal legal machine… didn’t I read a book or a story about this once? However, on the strategic reversibility of power relations front:

Silver lining…a weapon against RIAA
Back in the early days of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, activists discussed the creative use of terms of service to keep agents of the RIAA and MPAA from visiting their sites, and collecting evidence for later trials.

Though wouldn’t that require someone to prosecute them?

(“MySpace ruling could lead to jail for lying online daters,” Chris Soghoian, CNET)

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