A digital advocacy group has blasted the federal government's prosecution of a Missouri woman whose fake MySpace profile allegedly drove a 13-year-old neighbor to suicide.
On Monday, the Center for Democracy & Technology warned that the U.S. Department of Justice's action against Lori Drew, 49, goes too far by using an anti-hacking law to prosecute the O'Fallon, Missouri, woman for violating MySpace's terms of service.
Drew was charged last week in a case that has drawn international attention. After her teenage daughter had a falling out with Megan Meier, who lived nearby, Drew reportedly created a MySpace.com profile under the fictional name Josh Evans in order to taunt Meier.
After a monthlong flirtation in late 2006, "Josh" ended the relationship on Oct. 16, 2006, according to reports. Distraught, Meier ran up to her room and hanged herself. She died the next day.
A grand jury on Thursday handed up an indictment charging Drew with one count of conspiracy and three counts of unauthorized computer access. A federal grand jury in California heard the case because that is where MySpace is located. Missouri prosecutors had previously investigated the matter and found that Drew had not violated state laws.
She now faces a maximum of five years in prison on each of the federal charges.
If the charges against Drew are upheld, it will be a serious blow to anyone who wants to remain anonymous on the Internet, said Brock Meeks, a CDT spokesman. "Everybody that is sympathetic to this case and saying finally we've got something to nail her on here, they're not looking hard enough at the fact that the Justice Department blundered by using this anti-hacker law," he said.
The charges suggest that anyone who uses a fake name to sign up for a Web service like Yahoo or Gmail could be charged with a federal crime, Meeks said. "If that's a federal crime, then I'm certainly guilty of a federal crime and there are probably a million other people out there who are probably also guilty."
The CDT, an advocacy group that promotes open Internet use, will hold a press conference on the issue Tuesday morning, Meeks said.
A spokesman with the Department of Justice declined to comment for this story.