Monday, December 11, 2023

Web scraping is a tool, not a crime

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My concern is not unfounded. A loosely written American law called Computer Fraud and Abuse Law makes programmatic access to this type of information a potential crime. The decades-old law was introduced after lawmakers 1983 movie War games and decided that the United States needs an anti-piracy law that prohibits anyone from using a computer “without authorization or exceeding authorized access.”

While the law may have been well intentioned and was used to prosecute people who download things from their working systems that they weren’t supposed to, it also catches a lot of other people in its network. widely disseminated, including academics, researchers and journalists.

What does “exceed authorized access” mean in the age of social media? Does an employee who has access to a database of research journals for work and uses them for private purposes exceed authorized access? Is a journalist like me who collects information using automated processes and her own Facebook account a crime?

So far, interpretations of the law have gone from court case to court case, relying on various judges to give us a better definition of what exactly it means to exceed authorized access to information. . But soon the Supreme Court of the United States pronounce on the law for the first time, in the case Van Buren v United States. Nathan Van Buren, a police officer, had access to confidential databases to work and sold information he was looking for up there to a third party. The court heard oral argument on November 30 and could announce its decision at any time.


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