back to article Legal experts wary of MySpace hacking charges

On October 16, 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier fled from her family's computer, distraught over the cutting comments of her supposed "friends" on MySpace. Twenty minutes later, the troubled teen was dead; she had hung herself in her closet. The story, widely reported, garnered the girl's family widespread sympathy on the Internet …

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Paris Hilton

Blame Paris.

Blame it on Paris and Brittany and the Simpson twits, they are turning that age group of girls into a bunch of mindless drones....or blame it on GTA IV but what ever you do don't blame the parents or the fact that it takes an unstable person to hang themselves.

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Anonymous Coward

Pick a law with teeth

Surely it would be more appropriate to use the pedophile laws, and charge her with "grooming" a minor. I would imagine that the sentence could be more severe that way too.

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And the RIAA steps in for the defense

I mean they are going to aren't they?

If this passes, all anyone needs to do is put some simple terms barring the RIAA, associates, employees, friends and family from their site, broadband connection, IP in some obvious place - and if they get caught file sharing then the person that caught them is admitting a now criminal offense....

Would probably save them a lot of hassle to provide the defense lawyers on this one...

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New Law

They should push for a new type of law in which you can be at least partially held responsible if you maliciously cause someone to commit suicide through means such as harassment, emotional torment, etc. Trying to prosecute through internet/computer laws is the wrong way to go about it. They need a standalone law that has nothing to do with computers that they can apply to cases like this.

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Thumb Up

Oh well...

Need an extra kick to your prosecution case? Certain that your quarry has visted at least one website and used a pop-up blocker? Noticed the trend amongst website owners in the brave world created if this case succeeds to include a "By using this website you agree to be served adverisements from our sponsors!" clause in their terms and conditions?

Congratulations, you can add hacking charges to your case!

Trying desperately to prove file sharing charges but have no evidence beyond a limewire installation and a shared folder containing some MP3s... Noticed the clause in the limewire terms of use asking users not to share copyrighted files...

Nail the bastard under computer law...

Noticed Inappropriate language on a forum, despite this clearly being against terms of use... Fuck moderation, this is a job for the police...

The woman involved should be punished certainly, but twisting existing laws and setting stupid precedents is possibly not the best way of doing it...

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Looking for a criminal charge

If anything, they should have charged her with Manslaughter. It doesn't matter that she did not do the actual killing, it was her actions that caused the death of the young girl.

It would probably have a better chance of succeeding then the charge they came up with.

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@ Steven Swenson

Well said. I think we all agree that there was an extreme moral and ethical lapse, but the problem is finding a way to hold her legally accountable for it. We need a law that covers this sort of thing. Lock up the all sick folks in alt.suicide.holiday and throw away the key.

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Isn't this manslaughter?

Or the local equivalent, at least? They maliciously screwed with her head with the intention that she kill herself, then tried to cover the evidence. Actually, this shows premeditation- it's Murder. Hang the fuckers responsible.

The case they're trying to put through isn't exactly watertight and undoubtedly carries a slap-on-the-wrist sentence.

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Protection from Harassment

Isn't there a statute similar to the UK's Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which would be able to prosecute such an action without establishing a harmful precedent.

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Anonymous Coward

A new law....

A new law covering this sort of thing might be well and good, but it won't help nail the lowlife that started this mess. They can't reach back and charge her under a new law for something that was illegal at the time. And did anyone notice the kid in question was violating the terms and conditions for creating an account on myspace by being under 14 years old.

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Paris Hilton

Venue shopping?

Why did they have to go to a court in a completely different district? There are a lot more courts a lot closer.

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Also?

I seem to remember reading that the girl in question was also underage when signing on to the site, so I hope they are going to prosecute her parents to the full extent of the law.

As sorry as I feel for the girl, someone who's going to hang themself over a nasty message on the internet, isn't going to make it very far anyway.

Also,she was on anti-depressents and so forth, according to the press. Hence shouldn't her parents have been monitoring her more closely. I blame them far more than the other woman.

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well i might be a totally uncaring bastard but...

But its mearly stated that what she did caused the sucide...even if she did this is fucking big slippery slope, sucidial nutter decides to take someone down with them leaves a note and POW your off to chokey or physco ex who proclaims "leave me and i will off myself" does and that would be you are the direct cause of someone offing themself.

Sorry but unless you actualy phyiscaly help them the suicde has the choice not to do it, unless she actually broke a fucking law this should go nowhere.

Mines the one with "uncaring bastard" on the back...

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Stop

@Steven Swenson

That would be good and dandy--- for the future. Ex Post Facto laws are no good though, so if this happened again something could be done, but as the article said, there really is no law by which to charge.

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Pirate

Responsibility

Sad as I am to hear of the untimely, and presumably unpleasant, death of a young girl, I am appalled that, once again, the "internet" is blamed. Perhaps parents may like to take a bit more attention of their kids use of the internet.

There is a whole raft of legislation covering law of contract, which is what actually applies to make terms of use enforceable. Breaching a EULA or conditions of any service is not generally considered a criminal offence. This is a superb example of the spread of the nanny state and an excellent example of the abuse of powers by misapplying legislation to attain an unwanted side effect which will have draconian consequences.

I really do hope that the "Nothing to fear, nothing to hide" realise that their stance is just plain stupid now. Here is someone who has not broken any law, being prosecuted. Yes, her behaviour was reprehensible, but without any laws being broken she is free to do as she pleases.

There can be no real hope whatsoever of a conviction. As changes to the law of this magnitude usually require the appropriate legislature to vote on it. Of course, this is the NuLabour path being followed here, with ordinary behaviour being criminalised and the micro management of what people do in their own homes. This disease seems to be spreading and it is time to call a halt to it.

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Anonymous Coward

Sticks and stones

The remarks wouldn't have mattered if a real 16-year old had made them, and they certainly didn't matter when a middle-aged troublemaker pretended to be a 16-year old to make them.

Words may be very hurtful, but we all have to learn to put up with criticism, mockery, and even vicious taunts. The alternative would be far worse.

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Go

It's a wookiee...

You've heard of the wookiee defence [1]; well, this smacks of a wookiee prosecution.

You'll notice that the indictment (which I haven't read, what do you take me for?) is supposed to allege computer misuse and conspiracy. The latter of those will ensure enough punishment if this despicable behaviour [2] is proven.

In the UK, conspiracy is a common law offence [3] and so has no statutory penalty. Conspiracy to drop a fag [4] end can attract life imprisonment if the judiciary is so inclined. I don't know how it works in the USA.

Translation notes:

[1] OK, defense, I suppose.

[2] OK, behavior. Will it never end?

[3] No, not this time. Offence.

[4] Look it up. If you're reading significantly to the west of Greenwich, it doesn't mean what you think it means.

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@ Steven Swenson, Kanhef and Kevin Eastman

In the UK it would be possible to charge her with constructive manslaughter and possibly assault (without battery) depending on what exactly was said to the victim. There was an unsuccessful case against the host of one of those suicide method/encouragement chatrooms two years ago (the name of which temporarily escapes me). It would seem to me that with the greater level of oblique intention (recklessness as to harm caused psychologically or physically leading to death) then the charge would be far more likely to stick. It does seem somewhat silly and a little scary to set a precedent for criminal prosecutions for breaches of T & Cs.

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Stop

The Bad and the Mad

Its truly tragic that someone has committed suicide.

It is also tragic (although to a far lesser extent) that people are looking for a legal remedy to this. The solution is not to punish someone after the fact; the solution is not to cosset the youth and protect them from people who say mean things. The solution is to instill some common sense into kids. If someone comes up to you in the playground and says "You stink!", don't go and kill yourself.

Likewise on the internet.

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agree with Kevin

The state could have and should have gone with a harassment charge or even child endangerment. This day and age the state just couldn''t see its way past the way the law was written but they still apply. This also sets very dangerous precident if this actually goes through because right now I am violating my works usage rules.

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@Kevin Eastman etc.

What if it really had been a 16-year old boy, or one of her schoolfriends, that had been posting the messages as a prank? Children can be cruel and bully other children quite unaware of the consequences of their actions. Would you also hold them legally accountable?

Or take it one step further, supposing it was a completely genuine online boyfriend, but he then had second thoughts or met another girl and so decided to dump Megan. Will you hold everyone who dumps his or her partner who then goes on to commit suicide guilty of manslaughter?

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Too Many Lawyers to Screw in a Lightbulb

Is the legal system totally moronic?

What if Megan's suicide were the result of premeditated verbal assault? Would the law have no case at all, since there'd be no "terms of service" to prod a prosecution?

Death by shooting or stabbing or poisoning may be accidental, or be done in cold blood. The purpose and result must weigh in. The perpetrator's particular method is incidental.

In this case, networked computers were the weapons of choice.

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No laws?

If there are no laws that this hideous cow cannot be charged under, then make new laws under which future people who torment a troubled teenager so much they commit suicide can be charged with.

Incitment to suicide? Assisting suicide? Heck even euthinasia. Of course making a new law would mean the old hag couldn't get charged with it as it wasnt a crime at the time.

As someone posted, they could possibly charge her with grooming a teenager in a sexual manner (offering to show their "snake"). Maybe they could even charge her under some anti-spam laws and fine her billions of dollars - or they can leave her in a room, with the closest family members of the poor girl who died and let justice be served the Christian way.

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Dangerous Law

I see any kind of prosecution as very dangerous. If this women can be held accountable for the girls death, then what about school bulling. Some 13 year old kills themself after a playground spat and 4 other 13 year old girls get jailed for Manslaughter/2nd degree murder. Sounds a little extreme to me. At the end of the day the girl was responsible for ending her own life regardless of the provocation.

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RW
Pirate

What's the real crime?

If a would-be suicide is standing on a window ledge and we are all chanting "jump, jump, jump!", are we guilty of a crime? Seems to me that such a situation most closely parallels the case at hand.

And then there's the old children's jingle "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." That alone, well-known to every child and every adult, is prima facie evidence that verbal hostility is an accepted fact of life you just have to suck up to. Arguing a little further, it seems to me that if a certain verbal exchange is okay when spoken, it has to be okay when keyed, no?

I really wonder if this is a situation where social penalties such as shunning would be far more effective than dragging things into the courts.

What a mess.

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Unhappy

TOS, T&C...

How about plain bullet points with links to the legalese...

* Fair useage (see pages 7 to 23)

* No abuse (page 3)

* Permission for us to spy on you (pages 4 to 6 to see why it benefits you)

* No copying this software (24 to 50)

* No spamming, hacking or heckling... etc...

I tried to read the BT T&C for a phoneline and I'm not thick, but there were whole passages in there that I swear didn't even make sense, it's written by lawyers for lawyers. To stop people doing anything, the terms should be shown (not just a link to it), with a question and answer session after and if you don't pass you can't use the service / software. Wonder how long that would last.

Oh the story... don't know enough to comment, but kids are mean, especially fake boyfriends. This is kind'a telling though:

Megan - M is for Modern / E is for Enthusiastic / G is for Goofy / A is for Alluring /

N is for Neglected... (found on the Megan story). Basically seeing a therapist after mentioning suicide, overweight and ADD according to her own mother. she'd created her own fake account on Myspace too using a cute avatar to talk to boys - all at 13 when the TOS says you must be 14+.

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Bullying has become endemic... (how about that for a title?)

>Some 13 year old kills themself after a playground spat and 4 other 13 year old girls get jailed for Manslaughter/2nd degree murder.<

Bet it would help stop the bullying tho', especially if the families of the bullies were forced to relocate their darling child to another school after. In fact, I'm pretty sure bullying nationwide (thinking of the UK here), would dip to minimal levels after a few little angels were banged up for a few weeks / months.

My 13 year old niece has been having problems with bullying (she's a swot and not suicidally inclined, thank God), but my brother won't let me go and teach the little... 'angels', how unfair bullying is, says it's gotta be dealt with thru' the proper channels - well, it's been six months now and the proper channels don't seem to be working.

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You'd think that...

... they'd be laws against online harressment that could be used in cases like these? If not are there not laws that make it a crime to drive someone to suicide?

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Pirate

New Laws! New Laws!

@David Webb

I thought "Love thy neighbour as thyself" was the Christian way...

Only an insane legislature would make a new law based upon one incident, & a very weird one at that. To hold someone responsible for such an insane act as suicide by another is impossible - no matter how rude someone is.

<Self-righteous brothers>

If that woman came round here....

</Self righteous brothers>

I blame Rupert Murdoch and the evil MySpace site he invented

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Kids & Social Networking sites

Oil and water.

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Re: A New Law

@Anonymous Coward: "A new law covering this sort of thing might be well and good, but it won't help nail the lowlife that started this mess. They can't reach back and charge her under a new law for something that was illegal at the time."

<ironic laugh> Yeah... right... in the USA maybe... but any Legal System which operates under the UK/Commonwealth system has this wonderful concept of "retroactive law". *especially* if the government wants to recoup Taxes (which seems to be what this wonderful clause is mostly used for).

The concept alone pisses me off.

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Dead Vulture

Unfortunately

Unfortunately , suicide is a very complex issue and cannot be dressed up in either legalese or any other simplistic terms !

As the person involved is under a number unrelated cumulative stress factors and the subtle mood changes or cry for for help prior to the actually event are totally ignored by all around them quite literally and/or temper tantrums are totally ignored and put down to growing pains as in all the dumb ass stupid self help quackery medical books that are so popular with the masses from Dr Spock's fiction book in 1946 to all of today's releases as well ! These stress factors can effectively range from dumb ass parents expectations of seeking additional school performance above the child's limited talent and scholastic performance range for not every child at school is in the top five percent intelligence range or the skinny under fed cheer leader class(like in the total smuck usual crass wrong general average High School Student standard Hollywood "B" grade image film "Bring It On , 2000 "). Or now given the large percentage of childhood obese come from mostly parents over feeding their children on high sugar junk food , parental financial stress contributes as well ! Or they wrap them in so much protective cotton wool that goes to extremes circumstances as shown in one Hollywood Movie which went well over the top ! , called "The Virgin Suicides" 1999. In this sample the girls basic dysfunctional parents were virtually certifiably insane god crazed lunatics and basically unfit to raise any children period , but no one in authority took any notice or really cared either way , even after the tragic end of the girls .

Further , we have massive self image body double standards caused by the mass media in both TV weather girl/news reader total bimbo class with all looks , but of little real talent , to the other extremes in fashion magazines with massive digitally enhanced slimmed down altered skin tones and so forth with equally moronic adds that fail to reflect real life or anorexic skin and bone models in demand to fit the magic size six(may have been the case in the 1896-1901/1929-1937 depression but not any more). When the vast majority of these over fed obese children on high sugar diets from fast food crap fed to them by parents and schools as well (Thank you Coca Cola & Pepsi for your unwanted cheap $ sponsorship needed because of lack of funding from the state which are in turn based on consumption of their artificially coloured and flavoured liquid corn/sugar syrup crap , and they wonder why children are hyper active and suffering from other related diseases from overdosing on over prescribed barbiturates ) are in reality with expanded frames size 14 plus !

Yes , basically all crass women's top fashion magazines or the very large majority of the non super model class of catwalk slaves to an unreal surreal world , where in the name alleged beauty of thinness some very nasty criminal acts are performed on some of the the participants routinely behind the scenes out of sight from the public view or routinely talked about , but the fashion magazines reporters are forced by editorial/proprietor considerations of money first and foremost , to ignore these basic facts and/or reflect real life proportions within the standard bell curves of the general population at large !

This turkey of a prosecutor and "Peter Principle adherent" should be sacked immediately now , as basically "it" is going well above and beyond the job description of the office for as in real life as it will create a new criminal element where none existed before ! Question becomes thus , the greater the number of criminals real or unreal , they jail , the greater their pretensions and creating the false lie of protecting that which is not real (whilst say for example say in America some 45,000 are mown down in car incidents with one quarter coming from 8% of the roll overs of the vast numbers of unstable tank size Chairman Ronnie inspired big fat and mostly ugly overweight fallovers fitted without both anti-lock/stable zone control brake system(put off till 2011 or another 60,000 killed , but who cares not the US Car Companies it seems !) as fitted as standard on all Mercedes Benz's from 1999 on , but surprisingly somewhere 100,000 and 150,000 routinely die in hospitals at the hands of their incompetent medical doctors , so guess who the next class of felons incarcerated in the criminal system becomes thus thanks to this case , or the jail prisoners will get better medical treatment or perhaps not really, as they are just more quacks in jail then real prisoners !)

Sadly , those with stars in their eyes and cotton wool in their ears style parents without even a modicum of common sense brought up on a steady diet of quackery useless medical tomes sold to the public since 1946 can never see beyond their own nose or hear outside their concrete encased single brain cell at the best of times !

Choices , no one wins and every one loses in this case especially doctors who over prescribe by the numbers and don't listen to anything their patients say and teachers /uni lecturers inclusive too , that little bit more of the freedom we expect Democracy to deliver is lost in the noise ! Sadly, yet in today's era of almost instant communication , the world we know appears to be regressing rapidly towards an over the top CHEKA/NKVD/KGB/GRU style police state known in the Russian history books as the "Stalin Era" and of course our ever faithful lack of guts 419er politicians will obey the prosecutors whip in any direction he or she chooses , rather then say "hang on a minute you are incompetent and now exceed your job description by a large margin indeed and cut his/her budget to shreds instead forcing them to toe the reasonable line !

If this comes to pass , we are all like a dead bird with our throats slashed at the slightest imagined transgression , and effectively one will have to erect a country size Razor Wire Fence replete with heavily armed security guards at all entrances and exits like the USSR of old Stalin times , which didn't work even back then !

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Anonymous Coward

New law?

The nu lab knee jerk. Just use an existing one, eg manslaughter as suggested above. A decent prosecutor would get a jury to convict, certainly if I was on it.

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@Tom Welsh

This was a middle aged woman who posed as a juvenile in order to cause distress to a child. That's not right and she deserves to be punished.

"Words may be very hurtful, but we all have to learn to put up with criticism, mockery, and even vicious taunts. The alternative would be far worse."

You walk up to my kid and start calling them filth and I think it's you who'll be learning a lesson.

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Anonymous Coward

something must be done!

Something must be done! Think of the children! We must have new laws to fight these vile preditors! These sites should be forced to keep logs and give them over to anyone who wants them, parents, law enforcement, government, social services! All for the good of children!

As an aside just becouse someone deserves to be punished doesn't mean that they shall be. The universe is a complicated place and laws should be made in such a way so that innocent people are never wrongly convicted or harrased by said law. Any possible law applied in this case would run a huge risk of failing that very important mark.

What's worse admiting defeat and letting the person walk, or creating a precedent that could march dozens of innocents off to jail and place hundreds of thousands in a shadowy legal position of technically commiting a criminal crime.

People tend to only think of the moment, but that's people for you.

Anon personally finds it all amusing.

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Pirate

surely

The big flaw must be the misleading search for an internet related legislation. The point is that an adult has willfully deceived an underaged girl. It is in this particular case not about children bullying each other or being bad towards other children.

The main offence should be focusing on the fact that an adult has led a conspiration against the wellbeing of a minor. Are people suggesting that there are no laws for the prosecution to use? - does this mean that in 'real' life adults can masquerade as minors, pretend to be other minors friends for malicius purposes - without this activity being a 'problem'? What would the arguments for the prosecution have been if this 'grooming' and 'brainwashing' activity had been internet unrelated?

The prosecution has blinded itself on the internet aspect of the issue - which unfortunately is not only irrelevant but also dangerously seductive.

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Silver badge

I'm sure no new law is needed

I'm sick of this knee-jerk reaction whenever something "bad" happens - make a new law to cover it !

I'm totally certain that existing laws can effectively be called upon to deal out the justice that is deserved. A person communicated under a false pretense with another person and, through deceit and lies, brought the victim to kill herself.

There is no country in which this behavior is not morally reprehensible, and it's not because computers were involved that it is the first time such a thing has ever happened.

So I would like the lawyers to get a grip, go find the relevant cases and do their job properly.

We don't need new laws. I'm sure we already have way to many. And I'd like to see the ones we have properly enforced before some enlightened do-gooder drops another load on the seat of the already groaning Code of Law.

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Anonymous Coward

@Pascal Monett/an other law/et al

couldn't see anything sticking,

A defence would simply point out that there were many other factors that lead to the girl killing herself and that the online aspect commited by the woman was at best a minor part when set against school/parenting/social pressure. That infact the reason the girl had commited suicide was not due to the womans trick but instead the fault and responsibility of a system and a family that paid to little attention to the girl and a society that had sqewed her world perspective making her believe that she could not be complete in the world. At best you'd get a plea and she'd do a few months and some parole.

Where were the parents?

Where were the friends?

Where were the teachers?

There is something fundamentaly wrong with society and attempting to repair these problems with criminal law after the fact is like putting a plaster on a severed limb pretty darn pointless.

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Lack of Imagination

Lack of Imagination on the part of the prosecutors that is.

Harassment, hate crime, endangerment, possibly even libel as she knew she was telling lies and she had intent to harm (even if the intent was merely to cause the child to disassociate from myspace).

Getting hung up on the fact that a computer was involved, thus thinking computer specific law must be invoked is really dumb.

The prosecutors should review the whole thing again, but every time computer mediated communication plays a part, replace it with a similar, older tech equivalent; phone instead of IM, mail instead of email, paper thumbtacked to cork instead of an online forum or bulletin board post, etc etc etc.

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Pirate

Get Retro

Can't G W Bush just create one of those retro-active laws he likes so much and make this offence punishable by death?

I have to say I feel sorry for you guys in the USA. One day you'll wake up to a retro-active law to punish you all, YOU'LL SEE !

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Stop

Horrible

Severely punish Lori Drew, her daughter, and Ashley Grills and be done with it, and not under contract law, either.

This is a tragic case, but the message remains the same - the Internet is too complicated for most people. There's not much trustworthiness in the network, certainly not for the uncynical.

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