Image: Tina Meier
Tom Gannam  /  AP
Tina Meier holds two pictures of her daughter Megan who committed suicide last October after receiving cruel messages on MySpace, in St. Charles, Mo.
By
updated 8/19/2008 10:52:05 AM ET 2008-08-19T14:52:05

A defense attorney for the Missouri woman charged in a MySpace hoax that allegedly led to a 13-year-old girl's suicide argued in court papers that prosecutors are bending a cyber crime statute to prosecute his client.

At issue is whether the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is relevant to the case against Lori Drew of O'Fallon, Mo. Prosecutors filed voluminous motions last week arguing the statute can be used to prosecute cyber bullying, though it has traditionally been used for crimes such as hacking into computers.

The defense filed a thin six-page reply arguing that Drew did not violate the statute.

"Cyber bullying is not, under any definition, trespass or theft," according to the defense motion filed by H. Dean Steward on Monday.

Drew is accused of helping to create a false-identity account on the MySpace social networking site and harassing her young neighbor with cruel messages. The girl subsequently hanged herself in 2006.

Missouri authorities did not file any charges. At the time, they could not find any laws that applied.

In May, however, a Los Angeles federal grand jury indicted Drew on charges of conspiracy and accessing computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress. She pleaded not guilty.

The case was filed in Los Angeles because MySpace's servers are in Los Angeles County. FBI agents in St. Louis and Los Angeles investigated the case.

Legal experts predicted that use of the federal cyber crime statute on accessing computers would be challenged.

"Cyber bullying is a relatively new phenomenon, as is social networking," according to legal briefs filed last week by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krause. "It is, therefore, not surprising that there have been relatively few prosecutions in this area."

The government motions repeatedly stressed the rapidly changing state of law involving the Internet and social networking and argued that Congress envisioned the statute "as a tool to address all manner of cyber crimes."

Krause noted that only recently did the Boy Scout manual include advice on cyber bullying.

"Moreover, the vehicle for the cyber bullying at issue here, a social networking Web site, only became mainstream after 2000."

Steward, noting that the government included alleged new facts about the case in their motion, said some of them were untrue but, more importantly, were irrelevant to the court's review of legal questions.

On other legal issues, Steward continued to argue that the charges against Drew were vague, that there is no proof that Drew knew her conduct violated the usage rules of MySpace and said that basing a prosecution on private contract terms of service "invites a host of difficult, thorny problems and unwanted results."

A hearing on the motions is set for Sept. 4. Drew's federal trial is to start Oct. 7.

MySpace is owned by News Corp.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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