The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Seeks to Protect Innovation for Social Network Users

Facebook Tries to Make Violations of Terms of Use Into Criminal Violations


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal judge to
dismiss Facebook's claims that criminal law is violated when its users
opt for an add-on service that helps them aggregate their information
from a variety of social networking sites.

Power Ventures makes a web-based tool that users can set up to log
into their multiple social networking accounts and aggregate messages,
friend lists, and other data so they can see all the information in one
place. In a lawsuit against Power Ventures, Facebook claims that Power's
tool violates criminal law because Facebook's terms of service ban
users from accessing their information through "automatic means." By
using Power's tool, Facebook argues that its users are accessing
Facebook "without permission" under the California penal code. EFF
argues in an amicus brief filed Monday that users have the right to
choose how they access their data, and turning any violation of terms of
use into a criminal law violation would leave millions of Facebook
users unwittingly vulnerable to prosecution.

"California's computer crime law is aimed at penalizing computer
trespassers," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Users
who choose to give their usernames and passwords to aggregators like
Power Ventures are not trespassing. Under Facebook's theory, millions of
Californians who disregard or don't read terms of service on the
websites they visit could face criminal liability. Also, any Internet
company could use this argument as a hammer to prevent its users from
easily leaving the service as well as to shut down innovators and

Even the simple use of the automatic login feature of most browsers
would constitute a violation under Facebook's theory, since those
services are "automatic means" for logging in. But the risk for users is
even broader. If any violation of terms of use is criminal, users who
shave a few years off their age in their profile, claim to be single
when they are married, or change jobs or addresses without updating
Facebook right away would also have violated the criminal law.

"The information you put into social networking sites is yours, and
you should be able to access it, export it, and aggregate it as you
please," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "If Facebook's legal
argument is upheld, it will hobble companies that enable consumer
choice, as well a create a massive expansion in the scope of California
criminal law."

For the full amicus brief:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. EFF's mission is to ensure that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all people of the world.

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