TAKE ACTION: You can click here to email Congress to tell them to fix the CFAA

You can also click here to add our modals to your website to encourage your users to contact Congress.

IF YOU'RE IN BOSTON: Come to our rally on Saturday: http://act.demandprogress.org/sign/boston_rally/

And join our ThunderClap to promote said rally: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/1805-demand-action-for-aaronswartz

We are Demand Progress, Aaron Swartz's partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Free Press, Orin Kerr, Jennifer Granick, Lawrence Lessig, Marvin Ammori, Tim Berners Lee.

Some of us will be on throughout, others will pop in and out over the course of the afternoon. (Lessig, TBL, etc won't be able to answer every single question, but will probably get to those voted up to the top.)

We are here to discuss the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) which we are striving to reform, and under which Aaron Swartz, Andrew Auernheimer (weev), and others have been prosecuted and which potentially makes felons out of millions of Americans by criminalizing website terms of service violations.

We hail from across the political spectrum and we have somewhat divergent opinions about what the ideal CFAA would look like. But we all agree that the CFAA allows law enforcement to engage in frivolous prosecutions and/or to seek penalties that are severely disproportionate to alleged offenses -- and that this stifles innovation and speech and must be fixed.

Some proof, and more will trickle in: Demand Progress; Fight for the Future

Our handles:

Tiffiniy Cheng (FFTF)=textdog; David Segal (Demand Progress)=davidadamsegal; Trevor Timm (EFF)=trevorEFF; Jennifer Granick (Stanford)=Granick; Ryan Radia (CEI)-ryanradia; Taren=tarensk; Marvin=Amarv1n; Orin Kerr (GWU)=OrinKerr; Mark Jaycox (EFF)=MarkEFF; Cindy Cohn (EFF)=CindyEFF; Josh Levy (Free Press)=levjoy; Tim Berners-Lee (WWW inventor)=timbl

Comments: 421 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

SlimReynolds172 karma

You guys are the only spam emails I read anymore. Thanks for actually sending interesting content. Heck, your email just sent me here!

davidadamsegal94 karma

Haha. We'll take that, I guess.

Gehenus201255 karma

Dave, Y'all can send out a few too many e-mails per week. But, I'm there with SlimReynolds - they're always interesting.

davidadamsegal79 karma

Thanks -- if there weren't so many damn crises all the time we wouldn't have to email quite as frequently...

RichardPwnsner8 karma

Is there ever any tension within the organization regarding the way these issues are presented to the public? I usually find myself on board with the substantive position EFF takes in a given case, yet cringe a little when reading the email and press releases that advocate for it. Not necessarily criticizing the practice--I realize it's a difficult and necessary balance--but I have to admit I reluctantly began marking EFF as spam months ago, and was just curious how often this came up.

davidadamsegal18 karma

Yep, there's always such a tension. You need to figure out ways to make these issues relatable to people who don't know the issue well yet, in the hope that you'll spark an interest that encourages them to get more informed and active. Mass mobilization is the only way we'll win most of these fights. Cute cat theory of activism, right? (Cheezburger was a hero in the SOPA fight.)


eapenthampy107 karma

I'm the executive director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform (www.forfeiturereform.com). The draft version of the CFAA contains some terrible, and little understood, civil forfeiture provisions. I was wondering if there was someone at Demand Progress who was interested in this aspect of the legislation. Thanks.

davidadamsegal83 karma

Let's get in touch -- we've been pushing this angle with Judiciary Committee members who care about property rights or are members of the Progressive and Black Caucus's and are attuned to this issue because of the role it's played in funding the drug war.

raoulduke1289 karma

It seems like no matter how often these things are struck down through these grass roots awareness campaigns, mere months later some shill of a congressman just tries to push another version through.

What can we do to make a more permanent stand opposing this ridiculous legislation that absolutely does not seem to go away? Is it going to take a Supreme Court decision? If it should come to that, do you feel that our current justices are likely to rule in favor of a defendant in this situation?

davidadamsegal88 karma

More of the same. We're still very early in the process of building a pro-Internet political constituency. Trust me that there are far more people on our side on these issues than there were a few years ago -- it's an ongoing process, and it's working.

lorenzofb42 karma

Orin, Lorenzo, reporter from Mashable here. You are going to defend Weev in his appeal. And he, obviously, is one of the most famous CFAA cases and quite an unpopular character (by his own admission). It's very easy for the government to "demonize" hackers like him. As advocates for CFAA reform, how do you plan on making hackers like Weev a good example of how the CFAA needs to be revamped?

OrinKerr40 karma

On appeal, it's the legal issues that matter. If a person hasn't committed a crime, their conviction should not stand no matter how unpopular they are.

lorenzofb25 karma

Yeah, of course. I agree. But what I meant is: how do you explain to the public and politicians in general that even in the case of the "unlikeable" Weev we need CFAA reform? My feeling is the public and Congress just don't "get it" because they see hackers as spooky individuals that could launch a nuclear weapon with a phone call.

davidadamsegal26 karma

I think there's a growing constituency that opposes over-criminalization. CEI, Heritage, TechFreedom, Right On Crime, etc are helping to legitimize that position among conservative and libertarian Republicans, on spending and state authority grounds. The majority of Dems on House Judiciary, the committee of jurisdiction here, are in the orbit of the Progressive and/or Black Caucus, and are sympathetic to concerns about over-crim, prison industrial complex, etc. We need people who are working to legitimize those concerns/frames to keep up there work and have increased success as they do so, so we can discuss issues like the CFAA through those frames and have it resonate.

gsuberland29 karma


davidadamsegal46 karma

The biggest issue: Law enforcement asserts that it's a crime for you to violate a terms of service agreement on a website. Meaning that if Facebook says don't share your password with your friend, but you do anyway, then you're a federal criminal.

If Stephen Colbert starts a Twitter account for Bill Clinton, he's a federal criminal: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130409/08525322632/did-stephen-colbert-president-bill-clinton-violate-cfaa.shtml?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

This means almost all of us are criminals, which is a hallmark of an authoritarian society and means that we're all susceptible to prosecution if we do something that steps on the wrong persons toes. It also creates a chilling effect on innovation, because if you're trying to build a device or platform that's inter-operable with other devices/platforms, it's easy to violate terms of use agreements.

ssatva27 karma

OK, this is an activism question. I feel that some of the success of the last round of anti SOPA/PIPA campaigning was it's visibility and extremity, with big-name sites making a fuss over it. I think, based on conversations I've had with friends, that it made a lot of people who would otherwise assume this was a tech/legal issue that maybe didn't really effect them, consider that this might be A Problem, and further, it undermined the impression that these laws might be doing more good than harm. Even without fully understanding the issues, some people were able to shift it in their minds from 'this is some tech thing' to 'this could be bad,' and then they trusted the tech-savvy voices around them.

Importantly, all the sharing I did on facebook was lost on some friends, glossed over, until there was visible activism on google, and it got into the mainstream news. Then, they knew they cared.

Given that we are going to be facing endless rounds of these kinds of legal nightmares, does anyone have ideas about how to leverage this kind of visibility, without 'wearing it out' and reducing it's impact? We don't want to shut down teh webz every time this sort of thing happens, certainly, but we want to be visible on this scale, and do it over and over. Having google on our side helped. Can they be brought on board, and should they be?

In general, any thoughts about 'sustainable' visibility for this kind of activism?

davidadamsegal20 karma

This is another great question. I think that we need huge moments like SOPA to galvanize activists and scare politicians and make them recognize that Internet/free speech advocates are an important constituency. In practice though it's going to be hard to do that more than pretty rarely: SOPA antagonized basically everybody except for Hollywood/RIAA/etc, including the platforms. Most issues -- even those that are bad for Internet users -- don't manage to do all of that. So whenever we have the chance to mobilize the platforms we should do it, because it won't come around too frequently. And when it does happen it scares the hell out of politicians and creates myriad new activists who will be willing to stand with us on issues like CISPA, etc.

In general I don't know how to do engage in successful long-term activism except to ask people to stay vigilant. The other side wins when they succeed at wearing us down, when we fail to spring into action because of fatigue.

ssatva5 karma

Thanks for talking with us about all this! To refocus my wall-o-text a bit, and perhaps others there can throw out some ideas:

Any ideas about how we can reach people who could be allies, but who don't realize when these issues affect them? How we can reach the people who 'glaze over' if the issue seems too wonkish or technical? I find that my trying to reach them, assure them it matters, is only a little effective; if there is something 'out there' in their media awareness, they take notice. Are there ways we can start communicating more powerfully to those outside of the tech community?

davidadamsegal15 karma

With the CFAA I think the easiest frame is to let people know that they could have committed a federal felony by failing to abide by the small print that they clicked "OK" next to on some random website. Every Interent user is familiar with that dynamic, that nobody reads TOS agreements. It's even a pop culture trope -- South Park did an episode on it recently.

And so that means that if you share your Facebook password, or fudge your height on a dating site, or start a social media profile for your cat, or have one for work and one for personal use, then you're probably a criminal as per DOJ's interpretation of the statute.

SveNss0N17 karma

How do you feel that MIT handled the Aaron Swartz case?

davidadamsegal24 karma

In the opinion of Aaron's friends, family, and lawyers, Alex Stamos speaks best to some of the underlying issues there:


SveNss0N6 karma

Okay great, follow up question:

Will Aaron's death ultimately have an impact on policy updates and changes? What changes do you anticipate will happen down the road?

Thanks for answering and doing this AMA!

OrinKerr15 karma

In my view, it's not clear if Swartz's death will have an impact on legislation. Swartz's death speaks deeply and powerfully to some; it has no message at all to others. But CFAA reform is an issue that predates Swartz's death and will be around for a long time.

davidadamsegal20 karma

I would say that Aaron's passing has galvanized a core group of activists, and is the reason that we have a chance of stopping the proposal to expand the CFAA that was floated a couple of weeks ago, and which we discuss more here: http://www.fixthecfaa.com/

Orin's got a post about it too, here: http://www.volokh.com/2013/03/25/house-judiciary-committee-new-draft-bill-on-cybersecurity-is-mostly-dojs-proposed-language-from-2011/

This isn't an issue that many people knew much about a few months ago, and which would've gotten much traction then.

davidadamsegal11 karma

And former NH Senate John Sununu, a Republican who went to MIT, speaks to some of the issues well here, in the Globe, under the headline "A crisis of values at MIT" http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/21/crisis-values-mit/WxSOroQauc231s9q4phwtM/story.html

nuseramed13 karma


davidadamsegal10 karma

This is a great question, and neither of us will like that I fear the answer is "no". A less corporatist form of governance would help reduce the frequency of attacks on speech/privacy/due process. Reforms that create more pluralism and help empower/legitimize third parties would help a bit too. We have a handful of champions on these issues in power, but would have more under a proportional system. But those reforms are far off. (As a politician and activist, I would contest the notion that the democratic effect is the one that predominates in the governance of the U.S. at this time.)

xoxax10 karma

What do you think about US laws that don't just affect non-US people, but are targeted at them. It seems many US civil libertarians are vigilant about protecting the 4th Amendment, but sublimely untroubled by US spying on rest-of-world's ordinary lawful democratic political activities? http://www.reddit.com/r/1881a/

davidadamsegal8 karma

Yeah, this is very concerning, and comes up in other issue space too: drones, indefinite detention, etc. It simply is the case that more people will pay attention if they might get spied on, if they might get detained, if they might get blown up by a drown. But sometimes you can use that initial spark of concern to generalize and make people care about others too. Sometimes you can't.

Sciros9 karma

Hey guys,

Thanks for doing what you do. I have an important request though, and that is to please at least preface your email subjects with "Progress" or something telling me it's you because the subject lines are SO alarming that they are borderline inconsiderate and I almost get mad for even having to read them. I know you do it on purpose to get my attention, but I have seriously considered unsubscribing because I don't need to read alarming AND MISLEADING email subjects from people, least of all you. You've earned my trust but stop trying to test it daily eh? "Fire her" I mean give me a break, I actually thought it was some jackass asking me to fire someone at work. So yeah, temper those subject lines.

davidadamsegal3 karma

The from line usually reads "[NAME], DemandProgress.org" -- have you not been seeing that?

T1mac7 karma

Boing Boing had an article yesterday stating that a new provision of the CFAA was to make it a felony to conspire to violate the terms of service on a website or software. Such as using your wife's log on to British Airways to look up your frequent flyer miles. http://boingboing.net/2013/04/08/today-we-save-the-internet-a.html

Was this over sensationalism, or do we need to worry that our 16 year old daughters could potentially be hauled away for logging on the Seventeen website (much be older than 18 to join)?

davidadamsegal11 karma

The problem with laws that create a broad trawl like this is that they mean that justice becomes arbitrary, and it becomes easy for law enforcement to take action against people they don't like -- activists, artists, etc -- even if the activists did nothing illegal in their capacity as activist, artist as artist, etc. It creates a chilling effect on speech and innovation.

And sometimes -- as in the lawsuits against teenagers for downloading music -- they will very intentionally make an example out of petty offenders. Your daughter probably won't get in trouble, but somebody, somewhere, probably will. (And arguably have, in cases like Aaron's, weev's, Matthew Keys's, etc.)


I have a major problem with the mob whores at the RIAA. Being an older hippie, I tend to listen to older music and first having purchased the 45, then the album, then the 8 track, then the cassette, and finally the c.d. I really resent having to pay $1.50/ song that I have repurchased over and over again. I can totally understand protection of new product, but I resent the gouging by the music industry.

davidadamsegal9 karma

And we can't even leave our online collections to our kids.

ajpos6 karma

I have to say I was a little upset at FFTF, EFF, and Demand Progress about the follow-up to the whole SOPA thing. My organization was on the ground campaigning against Lamar Smith (we raised over $20k just from Reddit) but we were continually pushed aside when we asked for retweets/blog mentions from other political organizations that we were supposedly "allies" with.

That's all. I'm sorry for being cynical. But the lack of support is a big reason I left and why I will never support you again.

davidadamsegal4 karma

What's your org? I'd just note that we're a 2-person shop, and were also boot-strapping during that period, so not exactly adept at getting back to everybody we'd like to have helped.

2O126 karma

Where do you see the internet in 10 years if all these laws to 'protect' copyright holders go ahead?

davidadamsegal9 karma

SOPA obviously would've been a disaster for the Internet at large, and especially for sites like reddit, which would've needed to determine how to police uploaded content before it was even posted. Meaning that exchanges like the one we're having here would've been impossible. It would've stymied precisely the best, most interesting, (most potentially subversive) parts of the Internet, and those that most facilitate the democratic impulse.

davidadamsegal6 karma

We're now more likely to see something like SOPA imposed via treaty or international body than via institutions like Congress, where policymakers are still (to a degree) susceptible to democratic pressure. The notion that "we don't want to get SOPA'd" is still pervasive in Congress. But less accountable, more insulated policymakers don't need to worry as much.

davidadamsegal5 karma

Hey, reddit. We're still getting set up, but feel free to get started if you have any questions for us.

Ziss0u5 karma

What is the most frustrating part of your job?

davidadamsegal13 karma

The constant reminders that being right on the issues (and, we like to think, pure of heart) doesn't matter nearly as much as having lots of campaign cash to throw around.

epostma5 karma

There are many important causes that you guys fight for - many crises that need to be dealt with. Thanks for doing that.

How hard would it be to rank the crises that you guys try to battle? Would it be possible to say, "This proposed law is going to be the most important issue this quarter / year / decade"?

davidadamsegal6 karma

It's hard, because everybody has different priorities, and it's not always clear which laws will be most severely abused. It's not always clear until after the fact -- like nobody but a psychohistorian could've predicted in the mid-1980s that the CFAA would be used the way that it's used today, because the web didn't exist and most people hadn't ever used a computer.

microwindowsoft5 karma

So essentially the CFAA is attempting to make breaking website terms of service on a website a felony? Sorry, I'm not practicing law and nor do I have the time to search through the draft, was just curious as to what it basically entails.

davidadamsegal4 karma

That's what the Department of Justice has asserted that the CFAA does. Some judges thinks that it does not. There are other issues in the mix too, but this is the one that most people will care about most.

binarybana5 karma

When will Demand Progress accept Bitcoins for donations?

davidadamsegal6 karma

Sometime soon, we hope.

chylilith4 karma

I've been subscribed to the newsletter/website and also subscribe to Taren's Twitter feed and tumblr blog. (I think she followed me back which was a big woo woo moment for me) I have nothing deep and insightful to add but wanted to say "Hey ya'll long time listener, first time caller' Some of us are quiet but that doesn't mean that we don't heed the calls to action, read what you post, attend events that are nearby and stay informed of what is going on. I personally am grateful that there are people in this world that can dedicate their time and efforts as you all do for others like myself that cannot fully. I try to do my part by sharing and talking to others about these issues I feel that not enough people take seriously or think it won't affect them. (I suppose that is an issue with any cause or great activism drive) I believe/hope our country is on the cusp of major change and has the opportunity to be what it our country essentially was founded on again..Freedom. But it takes massive effort and true dedication. So again, thank you for all that you do for us 'little people' your voices don't just speak for you, they speak for a majority of us all beating a drum together. =)

davidadamsegal6 karma

Thanks so much. We're all 'little people'. We only matter when we all speak in unison, and we feel privileged to get to facilitate that sometimes.

mscheryltunt4 karma

What's the best way in which an unemployed person could help the cause? How can I volunteer to help ensure freedom of speech and accessibility of public information online?

davidadamsegal16 karma

If you're in school, look at your university's policies. If you want to affect state or federal legislation, the most powerful thing is to organize a bunch of constituents to visit your lawmaker or go to a town hall meeting to force them to recognize that there's a constituency that cares about these issues. The SOPA effort made that pretty apparent to lots of people, but it's imperative to have a sustained, organized defense of the Internet and free speech issues -- memories fade fast.

And it's especially the case that we need more motivated activists to fight for privacy and due process rights -- the big Internet companies generally aren't going to be fighting shoulder to shoulder with us on those fronts, the way they did with SOPA, because pro-privacy laws don't hurt -- and sometimes help -- their bottom lines.

davidadamsegal13 karma

reddit, as a company, has been great on all of the above.

goteg3 karma

I fully support and applaud Demand Progress' efforts, but I can't help but wonder if it isn't simply a lost cause. I mean what can be done when politicians ultimately fight for donations and votes, not for an open market, let alone an open internet. In the end, every bill we stop is just a temporary setback as it will just get reintroduced again once the furor has died down. Our government is broken. What hope is there of stopping it?

I hate to be negative. It just feels inevitable sometimes.

Edit i will continue to donate and spread the word every time,of course. Just because a fight may seem like a losing one doesn't make any less worth it

IQBoosterShot3 karma

I agree. We spend a lot of time and effort fighting the exact same battles repeatedly. We can successfully defeat a bad bill only to see it quickly resurrected, tweaked slightly and resubmitted. Wash, rinse and repeat.

davidadamsegal9 karma

These are completely understandable feelings. Here's what Lessig says to address them, in the talk he's been giving about money in politics recently. I can't say it's the most hopeful frame. It reduces to: There is no alternative.


Lessig closes with another challenge, spurred on by a woman telling him he’d convinced her it was hopeless, not entirely his intent. “I imagined a doctor saying ‘your son has terminal brain cancer. There’s nothing you can do.’ Would I do nothing? Would I just sit there? Of course not. I would do everything I could do because this is what love means. The odds are irrelevant. You do whatever the hell you can, the odds be damned.” It is this passion that citizens need to apply to this problem. After all, he adds drily, “even we liberals love this country.”

“When the pundits and politicians say change is impossible, what this love of country says is: That’s irrelevant. We lose something dear, something everyone in this room loves and cherishes, if we lose this republic. We act with everything we can to prove these pundits wrong. And here’s my question: do you have that love? Do you have that love? Because if you do, then what the hell are you, what the hell are we doing?”

IHappenToBeARobot2 karma

Hey Demand Progress. I just wanted to pop in to say thank you for all you do. If it hadn't been for you wonderful people I would be much more ignorant of the horrible things going on that are trying to dampen our freedom. I happily donate to your cause knowing it won't go to waste. Thanks!

davidadamsegal1 karma

Thanks so much!

petermurrayrust2 karma

Your advert specifies "during the afternoon". Could you please give UTC estimates. (BTW my Twitter avatar is campaigning against CFAA and honouring Aaron)

davidadamsegal3 karma

afternoon today, US east coast.

esperanto412 karma

I would have put your jail-bars-on-a-photo on my Facebook, but the caption was too exaggerated -- 'I am in jail' etc. Instead, should be 'Any of us could be jailed because of CFAA' etc.

Meanwhile, thanks for your work.

davidadamsegal3 karma

thanks. maybe we'll change that.

Philipp2 karma

How do you relate to Lessig and his rootstrikers idea, arguing that it is the one problem that needs to be solved before others?

davidadamsegal7 karma

We work closely with Lessig and RS. He's absolutely right that it's the money in politics reform is the key to all of these other fights. We and many participants here feel like we're constantly on a treadmill, because we are: The other side has legions of paid lobbyists and can support campaigns without limit, which is why we must fight issue after issue after issue, even though popular will is on our side. Money reform would fix that -- but we need to maintain an open, democratic Internet to have a shot at doing the organizing that it will take to achieve meaningful money reform.

MrBuddles2 karma

Since you claim you "hail from across the political spectrum", did any of you vote for Romney in the 2012 election?

I hear that phrase a lot, but I'd find it difficult to consider this group non-partisan if no one here voted along with 47% of the American electorate.

davidadamsegal4 karma

I can't say who voted for whom, but for instance, this is CEI's mission statement. This is a space where people from the left and right both get along pretty well.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty. Our mission is to promote both freedom and fairness by making good policy good politics. We make the uncompromising case for economic freedom because we believe it is essential for entrepreneurship, innovation, and prosperity to flourish.

rrdkent2 karma

Hi there! Thanks so much for all your advocacy work on this really important issue. For all of us university students, what do you recommend that we do to further this important issue, particularly on campus?

davidadamsegal4 karma

There aren't all that many Internet freedom groups on campuses. Or open access groups. You could try to make sure that as much academic work as possible that's produced on your campus is made accessible to the public for free.

toastedmilk2 karma

Can somebody link us to the bills? It's great to hear we're fighting the good fight but I would like to see it.

NAM0R2 karma

Do you think it will take a watershed moment, comparable to the Cuyahoga River catching on fire for the environmental movement, for any real reform in data protection in the US? And do you think Google Glass has the potential be that watershed moment?

davidadamsegal5 karma

It might require that. It frequently does. It's really hard to get people to care about these issues -- privacy mattered more when there was a real union movement, civil rights movement, antiwar movement -- it was probably easier for the average person to understand why corporate or government surveillance is concerning. It's tougher now.