Principal sues students over parody Facebook, Twitter accounts

An Oregon middle school educator tries to paint his mocking students as hackers in order to bring an action against them under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The school in question. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

"This'll learn them. How dare they mock me in public?"

This is my imagined monologue of Judson Middle School Assistant Principal Adam Matot. For he took it upon himself to ask the law to sanction those who had taken against him.

Yes, they happened to be his students. And yes, they appear to have made parody Facebook and Twitter accounts that mocked him, presumably in a middle school sort of way.

But did it seem reasonable to invoke the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in order to put them (and their parents) into emotional -- and, who knows, financial -- detention?

Yet, as Boing Boing reported, this is what he did.

His complaint was stunningly educative. It alleged that these growing humans had used Facebook and Twitter "without authorization." He also used terms such as "defamation," "negligent supervision," and "parental liability."

Some might imagine that, in invoking the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act -- the very same used against the now deceased Aaron Swartz -- Matot was suffering from negligent supervision of his faculties.

US District Judge Michael J. McShane wasn't impressed. In denying Matot's action, he reminded him that the idea of unauthorized computer behavior meant having no authorization to use a particular computer for any purpose. No, these kids weren't exactly hackers. They may merely have been hacked off with their principal.

One sentence from the judgment is especially poetic. Referring to another case, it said: "The Court found that 'lying on social media websites is very common.'"

Even the police, the judge noted, were known to create false profiles in order to entrap bad people.

Matot wasn't going to give up without a battle, however. When he discovered he couldn't persuade the judge on CFAA grounds, he tried to invoke RICO.

In case you aren't sure what RICO stands for, it's the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Yes, there were two students creating these parody account. They were clearly a criminal organization.

The judge might well have offered a hollow laugh. For, in reply, he offered: "Congress did not intend to target the misguided attempts at retribution by juvenile middle school students against an assistant principal in enacting RICO."

I fear the judge was accusing Matot of trying to parody the law.

Matot is still listed as the middle school's assistant principal on the school's Web site.

At least, I think it's the school's Web site.

 

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