Aaron’s Law

What Does Aaron’s Law Mean?

Aaron’s Law is pending legislation introduced in response to the death of Aaron Swartz, a respected and celebrated political activist, computer programmer and entrepreneur who founded Demand Progress and co-founded Reddit. Swartz died January 11, 2013 at the age of 26.


Introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Aaron’s Law would amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and wire fraud statute. In 2010, Swartz was charged with 13 felony wire fraud and hacking charges based on these laws. If Swartz had been convicted, he may have been forced to pay a large fine or have received a prison sentence of up to 35 years.

Techopedia Explains Aaron’s Law

On January 16th, Rep. Lofgren publicly explained on Reddit that the charges against Swartz were due, in large part, to the sweeping and generalized language of the CFAA and wire fraud statute. According to Rep. Lofgren, the CFAA, if taken out of context or unclarified, could criminalize a number of "everyday" activities, allowing for severely enforceable penalties.

Rep. Lofgren is not alone in her stance against the bill’s murky nature. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the CFAA’s lack of specificity and clarity has allowed prosecutors bring criminal charges that target behavior that extends beyond hacking. An example is the United States v. Drew, where a woman created a fake MySpace page to harass a teenage girl who then committed suicide. In this case, the bullying was not illegal, so Drew was charged with violating the CFAA. Amending the CFAA would eliminate misuse of the bill’s general language.

Lofgren maintains, especially in the wake of Swartz’s death, that the CFAA and wire fraud statutes should be changed to exclude terms of service violations. This would correct potentially dangerous interpretations of the CFAA. Rep. Lofgren is currently seeking bill cosponsors.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…