Department of Justice Deems Violating Website Terms of Service Illegal

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

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.

6 thoughts on “Department of Justice Deems Violating Website Terms of Service Illegal”

  1. I guess I’m going to have to legally change my name now. It’s a good thing they have time to worry about this and not F&F.

    1. I think you’re being unfair. Fast and Furious only ended up killing people whereas violations of Terms of Service agreements end in no consequences whatsoever. Wait… that does sound pretty stupid when I said it that way.

  2. I think an argument could be made that making a fb account with a fake name is misusing their server space, which they paid for. Thus, loss of property.

    1. I think that would be really pushing it as no actual loss of property has occurred (some bits on a hard drive may have been filled but can easily be emptied with the click of a button). At the absolute most they might be able to finagle trespassing in this but in those cases you’re usually required to provide notice to the trespasser before any criminal charges are considered.

      It would also be difficult to argue any justification for criminal charges in such a case. Perhaps if you really stretched it you could get civil charges on this but that doesn’t fall under the “authority” of the Department of Justice.

  3. Let’s be honest here… this is really a national security threat as terrorists could set up fake accounts and and wreak havoc in the online community. I wonder if TSA had any part of this legislation? Any bets on the TSA getting funding from this bill to develop software that conducts online full cavity/ profile searches because it’s good for us?

    1. Then we’ll have to have TSA agents at our homes to perform cavity searches before we go online. It’s sad that I haven’t ruled this possibility out completely.

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