A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Department of Justice Deems Violating Website Terms of Service Illegal

with 6 comments

We’ve all glossed over the Terms of Service (ToS) agreements of various websites and software packages. Most ToS agreements are composted of dense legalese that nobody without a law degree could possibly hope to translate. I view ToS agreements the same I view any broken contractual agreement where nothing of value has been lost, a non-issue. If you make an agreement with me to stand on one foot for an hour every Saturday morning in exchange for me agreeing to do a handstand at 21:00 every Thursday and one of us breaks the agreement neither party has actually lost anything. Even if there is a contractual agreement between the two of us as neither of us has actually suffered any loss of property no prosecutable offense has taken place.

If you signup for a Facebook account and use a fake name, something against Facebook’s ToS agreement, what is lost? Nothing, as the agreement stipulated no transfer of property and thus violation of the agreement is without consequence and therefore not a prosecutable offense. Unless, of course, you ask the Department of Justice (DoJ):

The U.S. Department of Justice is defending computer hacking laws that make it a crime to use a fake name on Facebook or lie about your weight in an online dating profile at a site like Match.com.

In a statement obtained by CNET that’s scheduled to be delivered tomorrow, the Justice Department argues that it must be able to prosecute violations of Web sites’ often-ignored, always-unintelligible “terms of service” policies.

The law must allow “prosecutions based upon a violation of terms of service or similar contractual agreement with an employer or provider,” Richard Downing, the Justice Department’s deputy computer crime chief, will tell the U.S. Congress tomorrow.

What the DoJ stance doesn’t take into consideration is the fact contractual agreements between an employer and employee or service provider and customer often involved actual loss of property. If you make a contractual agreement with a cell phone service provider that states the provier will give you a phone at a reduced cost in exchange for your commitment to two years of service a loss of property, the subsidized value of the phone, is inflicted upon the provider if you break the contract. This is why ending such a contract before the two years is up entitles paying an early termination fee, to reclaim the subsidized value of the phone.

A website doesn’t actually lose any property when you decide to use a fake name. In fact I’m unaware of a single ToS agrement violation that could lead to a provider losing property if violated, considering most of these services are free to use. Therefore there is no legitimate reason to prosecute somebody for violating a ToS agreement.

Either way don’t fret about violating my ToS agreement.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2011 at 11:30 am