Blown To Bits

A Bits Prosecution for a Bits Death

Friday, May 16th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

The horrible, sad story of Megan Meier has been widely reported. Meier was 13 years old when she took her own life after being taunted by a MySpace friend named “Josh,” who turned out to be a fiction. Who exactly “Josh” really was, and whether that person committed a crime by telling Meier that the world would be better off without her, are matters now to be determined in a court of law.

According to an early police report,¬†Lori Drew, the mother of a friend of Megan’s, acknowledged “instigating” and monitoring the MySpace account, though she denies creating it. But officials in Missouri, where Drew and Meier lived, couldn’t find a statute under which Drew could be prosecuted. Now creative prosecutors have indicted Drew under federal statutes, claiming that she was engaged in interstate fraud. Why interstate? Meier and Drew lived within blocks of each other, and it would seem that whatever happened was purely the province of state and municipal authorities. But the MySpace servers are in California. Drew was, according to the theory, transporting bits across state lines to fraudulently inflict emotional distress on Meier, and that would be a federal crime.

One observer describes this use of federal fraud statutes as “aggressive,” which is legalese for “a stretch.” It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But it signals a much larger development. As Cyberspace unites the nation and the world, there will be many more cases in which federal and international authorities will be able to take an interest in what used to be local matters.¬†

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