Report: Guilty verdict overturned in MySpace suicide case

Lori Drew allegedly used a fake MySpace profile to harass a teenager to the point of suicide, but judge says prosecutors can't use the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act against her.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

Lori Drew, the woman convicted of using a hoax MySpace profile to harass a teenage girl to the point of suicide, was acquitted by a Los Angeles judge on Thursday, Wired reported.

Judge George Wu overturned Drew's guilty verdict, which was issued in November, saying that if Drew had been convicted of a felony in the case, she would already have been sentenced. But because she was convicted of three misdemeanors--a significantly lighter offense than prosecutors originally sought--the constitutionality of the guilty verdict was less clear.

Drew, a Missouri resident, had been convicted of three misdemeanor counts of "accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress," each of which could have resulted in a year of jail and a $100,000 fine. But she hadn't been convicted of conspiracy, a felony that could've led to up to 20 years in prison.

The tragic situation unfolded in 2006, when Drew, her teenage daughter, and an 18-year-old employee of the family created a fake MySpace profile for a fictitious teenage boy that they used to harass one of Drew's daughter's classmates, 13-year-old Megan Meier. Meier hanged herself.

This was a situation in which traditional law did not align smoothly with the realities of the digital world: the prosecutors' argument was rooted in a terms of service violation, since MySpace officially outlaws impersonation and fictitious accounts.

Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation urged the courts to dismiss the case because of the precedent it could set. "Criminal charges for a 'terms of service' violation is a dramatic misapplication of the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act), with far-ranging consequences for American computer users," the EFF said at the time, and argued that it could result in criminal charges for something as innocuous as a minor using the Google search engine.

Drew's lawyers had argued that the law being used against the defendant was vague and flawed, which the judge upheld Thursday when he threw out the guilty verdict. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is typically used against malicious hackers.

According to Wired, the judge argued for nearly 45 minutes with U.S. Attorney Mark Krause over the specifics of the CFAA.