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Federal Court Rules Accessing a Website via Proxy Server is Illegal If that Website Wants to Block You
In a judgment that can have far-reaching implications upon the habits of web users in general and the internet marketing and SEO industry in particular, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer for the Northern District of California ruled that disguising an IP address by using a proxy server to visit web sites where you’ve been banished, violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The ruling has big implications as in this case Craigslist had banned the IPs of data harvester 3Taps, but the data harvesting company continued to access Craigslist data via different IP addresses and proxy servers. Previous to blocking 3Taps’ IPs, Craigslist had sent a cease-and-desist letter to PadMapper, which used the scraped data.
Data aggregator companies on auto pilot likes news or listings aggregators can also be hit by the ruling if the sites from which they obtain data block their IPs and send them cease and desist letters.
Also many websites block big IP ranges for their own reasons, but people from those areas use proxy servers to access such websites. The ripple effect of the ruling on such cases, and on spiders and crawlers which people do not want on their websites would be interesting to observe.
In the instant case, Craigslist argued that 3Taps violated the CFAA, which prohibits intentional access of a computer without authorization, and which access results in the capture of information from a protected computer.
Even though Craigslist had initially brought a copyright claim against 3Taps and PadMapper, 3Taps countersued claiming that Craigslist was trying to create a monopoly by blocking competition.
In its judgment, the federal court observed, “The law of trespass on private property provides a useful, if imperfect, analogy …Store owners open their doors to the public, but occasionally find it necessary to ban disruptive individuals from the premises.”
The CFAA had been criticized last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the 9th Circuit had held the government’s overbroad interpretation of the statute could subject millions of Americans to prosecution for harmless web surfing.
But the CFAA is back, it seems, in full force, with the same broad interpretations that were used against Aaron Swartz, who ultimately committed suicide.