Monday, May 19, 2008
The federal indictment resulting from an incident on MySpace has been reported nationally. (see, e.g., here and here). A press release of the U.S. Attorneys Office of the Central District of California states that:
"A Missouri woman was indicted today on federal charges for fraudulently using an account on the social networking website MySpace.com to pose as a teenage boy who feigned romantic interest in a 13 year-old girl. That girl later committed suicide after the 'boy' spurned her and told her, among other things, that the world would be a better place without her."
The Indictment charges a conspiracy to commit a violation of the computer fraud statute - 18 U.S.C. s 1030 and also specific substantive offenses under section 1030. Some are critical of the use of the computer fraud statute for this purpose (see here). Clearly, whether this alleged incident should be the subject of an indictment, and whether it should be subject to a federal indictment will likely be issues that will be considered in this case.
But in addition to questions of whether the computer fraud statute was intended for this purpose, there is also a question of whether the U.S. Attorneys Office in the Central District of California ought to be prosecuting this case. According to the indictment (see below), the basis for the jurisdiction is that Fox Interactive Media Inc. is the Beverly Hills Corporation which operates myspace.com ("MySpace"). As the server is located in LA County, the indictment notes that this is within the Central District of California.
This indictment raises a threshold question of where is the appropriate jurisdiction in computer related cases, and specifically in cases charging criminal conduct. Should it be the place of the keystroke, the place of the social harm, or can prosecutors go for jurisdiction, as they have here, to the place of the server? Is it appropriate to give prosecutors the power to chose jurisdiction this way? Does this disadvantage the accused in that their evidence may be located in the place where the social harm is alleged to have occurred and not where the server is located? Does a prosecution such as this make the requirement of venue meaningless? Interestingly, Missouri has since passed a cyberharrassment law (see here).
The indictment - Download my_space_lori_drew_indictment.pdf