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Lori Drew Pleads Not Guilty to MySpace Suicide Hoax

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Lori Drew appeared in Los Angeles federal court Monday to respond to charges stemming from the "MySpace suicide" hoax. Drew is accused of setting up a fake MySpace profile that is believed to have contributed to the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier. According to the New York Times, the Missouri mother pleaded not guilty to charges of internet fraud and conspiracy to inflict emotional distress. Drew and her attorney declined comment. According to the Associated Press, Drew is currently free on a $20,000 bond.

The charges were filed in California where MySpace is based...Drew's case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge George Wu and her trial scheduled for July 29. A status conference was scheduled for June 26. U.S. attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said Drew would be allowed to return home pending trial. -Linda Deutsch for AP

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, used to charge Drew, is usually reserved for computer hackers who illegally access information stored on protected computers. The applicability of this law to Drew's alleged acts is already raising questions.

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Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of Southern California, has said use of statute, known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, may be open to challenge. Lonergan said the crimes covered by the law involve obtaining information from a computer, not sending messages out to harass someone.

"Here it is the flow of information away from the computer," she said. "It's a very creative, aggressive use of the statute. But they may have a legally tough time meeting the elements."
-Theage.com

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog considers whether oft-ignored "terms of service" (TOS) are truly binding, and points out the slippery slope of accountability that would make most of America unwitting lawbreakers.

Over at securityfocus.com, the indictment brought up similar concerns over proving Drew's knowing violation of the terms of service and the fact that everyone regularly violates TOS. Also at issue is the fact that violation of TOS is normally a misdemeanor.

The indictment alleges that Drew obtained a MySpace account under a fictitious name, used the account to garner information from a juvenile, and used that information to torment, humiliate and harass that member -- all violations of the social-networking site's terms of service. While the U.S. Attorney's office refused interview requests, a spokesperson said that the harm done to Megan is key to the case. Known as a "tortious act," the legal argument is generally the basis for civil lawsuits, but can be used as the basis of criminal prosecution. In this case, the tortious act elevates the unauthorized access charges from misdemeanors to felonies, FTI's Rasch said.

Others disagree about the relevancy of harm.
James Chadwick, a Palo Alto lawyer who specialises in internet and media law, said it was probable that liability for the girl's death would not be an issue in the case. "As tragic as it is," he said, "you can't start imposing liability on people for being cruel".
--Theage.com

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Previous Coverage on LAist
-Lori Drew Indicted in MySpace Suicide Hoax
-Ashley Grills Confesses to the "MySpace Suicide" Hoax and Implicates Lori Drew
-MySpace Suicide Case Raises Legal Questions
-The Meanest Blog in the Entire World
-The Reign of eTerror: Are Blogs Responsible For Suicide?
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AP Photo/Bill Robles