Preventing Unintended Internet Discrimination

An Analysis of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for Algorithmic Racial Steering

Recently, a number of high-profile Internet researchers have come under fire for potentially violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”). Their stories highlight many flaws of the CFAA when it comes to protecting researchers that data-scrape websites to investigate activity that may be illegal. Using the case example of the housing website Zillow and investigation into possible violations of the Fair Housing Act on the site, this Note examines the lack of, and need for, greater protections for researchers under the CFAA. After delving into the history of the CFAA and data scraping and analyzing how courts would likely apply the CFAA to modern researchers scraping websites to test for racial discrimination, this Note argues for a two-part, nonlitigation solution to protecting researchers. The Author’s proposal consists of legislative and regulatory improvements that would narrow the scope of the CFAA as well as nonregulatory solutions that would privately incentivize compromise between researchers and website owners.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.