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MySpace bullying trial ends in misdemeanors
Published: 2008-11-28

A federal jury found 49-year-old Lori Drew guilty of three counts of misdemeanor computer hacking on Wednesday, acquitting her of the more serious felony charges..

The Missouri resident was accused of taking part in a scheme to use a fake MySpace account to bully her daughter's one-time friend, Megan Meier — actions which resulted in the 13-year-old girl's suicide. The case has been closely watched because federal prosecutors brought novel hacking charges against the woman after local and state attorneys could not find applicable criminal statutes.

The conviction on three misdemeanors under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (corrected) could result in Drew serving up to three years in prison, according to media reports. While the jury did not find Drew guilty of the more serious hacking charges, the case still sets a precedent of a successful hacking prosecution for violation of an Internet service's terms of use, legal experts said.

"If this verdict stands," Andrew M. Grossman, senior legal policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, told the New York Times. "It means that every site on the Internet gets to define the criminal law. That’s a radical change. What used to be small-stakes contracts become high-stakes criminal prohibitions."

The case stems from the fatal conclusion to a serious case of cyberbullying that took place in O'Fallon, Missouri on October 16, 2006. On that day, 13-year-old Megan Meier hung herself in her closet following a series of changes with an alleged 16-year-old boy, named Josh, through the MySpace's online service. Months later, the Meiers learned that Lori Drew, a 47-year-old neighbor and mother of a former friend of Megan's, had allegedly taken part in creating the fake persona to befriend and later torment the girl. State investigators, however, could not find a law under which Drew could be charged, but public outrage convinced federal prosecutors to pursue the case. A year and a half later, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California indicted Lori Drew on conspiracy and hacking charges.

On Wednesday, the jury in Los Angeles acquitted Drew on the three felony charges of computer hacking and could not reach a decision on a felony charge of conspiracy.

MySpace has promised to make the Web service safer for its younger users. In January, the site, owned by News Corp., reached an agreement with the top prosecutors of 49 states and the District of Columbia to abide by a set of standards designed to promote the safety. Technology companies, including such giants as Microsoft and Verizon, met this week at a two-day conference to discuss ways of making social networking and the Internet in general safer for children.

CORRECTION: The original article misclassified the misdemeanor charges. The prosecution charged Drew with both misdemeanor and felony violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, so both sets of violations are considered hacking charges.

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Posted by: Robert Lemos
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