Judge Nixes Computer Fraud Theory In Campus Prank

Earlier this year, Boston College student Riccardo Calixte allegedly pranked his roommate, Jesse Bennefield, by sending out emails saying that Bennefield frequented a gay dating site.

Bennefield wasn't amused. He went to the campus police, who obtained a search warrant for Calixte's computer. At the time, the police argued that the emails might have violated Boston College's terms of service and, therefore, sending them was evidence of computer fraud.

That's very similar to the theory prosecutors relied on to bring charges against Lori Drew in the MySpace suicide case. Drew allegedly helped engineer a plan to create a fake profile of a boy, "Josh," who befriended 13-year-old Megan Meier on MySpace.

"Josh" initially flirted with Megan, but later turned on her and sent a final message stating that the world would be a better place without her. Megan then committed suicide. Drew herself did not send the messages or set up the account, according to the prosecution's chief witness, 20-year-old Ashley Grills, the former babysitter for Drew's daughter.

Still, the government argued that Drew's actions amounted to computer fraud, on the theory that she used an alias to sign up for an account -- which was a violation of MySpace's terms of service.

Last December, a jury found her guilty of three misdemeanors, but the judge in the case is still considering a defense motion to dismiss the charges.

In Massachusetts, Supreme Judicial Court judge Margot Botsford didn't have to spend months upon months pondering the issue. The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation took up the case and, last week, Botsford ruled that sending the emails was probably not illegal, quashed the search warrant and ordered the police to return Calixte's property.

Tags: commentary, legal
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