Aug 20, 2013

Is using a proxy server still legal?

I was talking with a co-worker this morning, and she claimed that a new court decision made it illegal to use a proxy server to access websites. I assume that she is incorrect, which is generally a fair assumption with her, since she bases much of what she believes on what Rush Limbaugh and World Net Daily tells her, but often there is an actual fact that has been twisted into something that “proves” something nefarious about government/Obama/liberals/Saul Alinski/etc. I prefer to know the actual facts. Does anyone know what she is talking about when she says the courts have ruled that use of a proxy is illegal?

Bypassing Proxies: Is It Legal?

"What can you do when you log onto a U.S. based website to watch your favourite TV programme, only to find the site is blocked to IP addresses in the UK? Tech savvy users know that they can turn to a proxy server or a virtual private network (VPN). These services allow you to circumvent web filters that block users based on geographical location. With just a few clicks, you get instant access to your favourite U.S. TV shows.

There are many webpages dedicated to showing web surfers how to utilise proxies and VPNs, but far fewer that discuss the legal implications associated with them. Before you start proxy bypassing, educate yourself about the difference between legal and illegal proxy activity."

Well, you pretty much nailed it - there is a kernel of truth there, but only in a very limited set of facts is use of a proxy server illegal. Basically, there was a ruling in a case captioned Craigslist v. 3tap that held use of a proxy server to circumvent a ban from a website violates the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act). The CFAA was written so long ago that it makes many things illegal and subject to criminal penalties that really should not be, and is what was used to prosecute Aaron Swartz, among others. The problem is not so much the courts as it is that congress drafted a bad law that is out of date, and now they can’t be bothered to fix it. Also, since this is a US District Court ruling from the Northern District of California, it can be cited outside of that district, but it is not controlling precedent.

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