US court rules: Algorithmic bias research does not constitute hacking

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which makes it a federal crime to access a computer in a manner that ‘exceeds authorized access’. This provision of the law often prohibits and chills academics, researchers, and journalists from testing for discrimination on the Internet. The plaintiffs are academic researchers, computer scientists, and journalists who wish to investigate companies’ online practices through standard academic and journalistic techniques, but are limited by the terms of service of target websites. On 27 March, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that such actions should not be viewed as criminal under the CFAA, though it declined to weigh in on whether the researchers’ conduct would be protected under the First Amendment.