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Defense: Prosecutors bending law for MySpace hoax

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[August 19, 2008]  LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A defense attorney for the Missouri woman charged in a MySpace hoax that allegedly led to a 13-year-old girl's suicide argued in court papers that prosecutors are bending a cybercrime statute to prosecute his client.

InsuranceAt issue is whether the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is relevant to the case against Lori Drew of O'Fallon, Mo. Prosecutors filed voluminous motions last week arguing the statute can be used to prosecute cyberbullying, though it has traditionally been used for crimes such as hacking into computers.

The defense filed a thin six-page reply arguing that Drew did not violate the statute.

"Cyberbullying is not, under any definition, trespass or theft," according to the defense motion filed by H. Dean Steward on Monday.

Drew is accused of helping to create a false-identity account on the MySpace social networking site and harassing her young neighbor with cruel messages. The girl subsequently hanged herself in 2006.

Missouri authorities did not file any charges. At the time, they could not find any laws that applied.

In May, however, a Los Angeles federal grand jury indicted Drew on charges of conspiracy and accessing computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress. She pleaded not guilty.

The case was filed in Los Angeles because MySpace's servers are in Los Angeles County. FBI agents in St. Louis and Los Angeles investigated the case.

Legal experts predicted that use of the federal cybercrime statute on accessing computers would be challenged.

"Cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon, as is social networking," according to legal briefs filed last week by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krause. "It is, therefore, not surprising that there have been relatively few prosecutions in this area."

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The government motions repeatedly stressed the rapidly changing state of law involving the Internet and social networking and argued that Congress envisioned the statute "as a tool to address all manner of cybercrimes."

Krause noted that only recently did the Boy Scout manual include advice on cyberbullying.

"Moreover, the vehicle for the cyberbullying at issue here, a social networking Web site, only became mainstream after 2000."

Steward, noting that the government included alleged new facts about the case in their motion, said some of them were untrue but, more importantly, were irrelevant to the court's review of legal questions.


On other legal issues, Steward continued to argue that the charges against Drew were vague, that there is no proof that Drew knew her conduct violated the usage rules of MySpace and said that basing a prosecution on private contract terms of service "invites a host of difficult, thorny problems and unwanted results."

A hearing on the motions is set for Sept. 4. Drew's federal trial is to start Oct. 7.

[Associated Press; By LINDA DEUTSCH]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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