Internet

ACLU sues to kill decades-old hacking law

The advocacy group says the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes it hard to investigate websites for bad behavior and potential discrimination.

Is it time to dump a three-decade old hacking law?

James Martin/CNET

Does a ban on hacking also prohibit free speech?

That's a question at the heart of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, claiming the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes it impossible for researchers to legally investigate websites for discriminatory and poor behavior.

"Websites have been found to use demographic data to raise or lower prices, show different advertisements, or steer people to different content," wrote ACLU spokeswoman Noa Yachot, in a statement. The result, she said, is people have paid more for car loans and seen ads for predatory lending based on their skin color.

"One recent study by Harvard computer scientist Latanya Sweeney found that searches for names typically associated with Black people were more likely to bring up ads for criminal records," she added.

But researching this type of behavior is technically considered hacking, the ACLU said, making it harder to uncover bad behavior. The ACLU said its 45-page lawsuit, filed Wednesday, should keep the government from enforcing the CFAA in the future.

The DOJ declined to comment.

This isn't the first time the CFAA has been criticized. Most notably, the law was central to the government's suit against Aaron Swartz, the internet activist who committed suicide three years ago after facing felony charges for releasing scientific articles on the web.