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(A related suit alleging RAT-enabled interception of privileged and confidential attorney work product is unfolding in Georgia.)* * *Another law integral to electronic privacy is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), and, like ECPA, RATs were not considered when it was written.

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A leading case illustrating the problems with the “in-flight” ECPA approach is , still-pending federal litigation over RAT spying conducted by rent-to-own computer stores franchised by Aaron’s, Inc.

At issue are privacy harms suffered by Colorado residents Crystal and Brian Byrd at the hands of a RAT called PC Rental Agent.

As it currently stands, a ratting plaintiff must show damages of over $5,000 to be able to use the act's civil provisions.

But even great privacy harms do not necessarily translate to dollars—what is the price of having your sex life mocked by strangers in your living room? —so the act ends up unable to protect many who might need it.

The laptop, it turned out, had been stolen before she bought it, and it came equipped with a Remote Access Tool, or RAT.

RATs are software that allow a third party to spy on a computer user from afar, whether rifling through messages and browsing activity, photographing the computer screen, or in many cases hijacking the webcam and taking photographs of whomever is on the other side.

The federal government should clarify the definition of “interception” under Title I of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and reconsider the damages requirement for private claims in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in light of the often non-economic nature of privacy harms.

A victim’s suffering is often not financial but emotional.

There are counter-intuitive interpretations of aging electronic privacy statute passed before webcams were invented and a federal hacking law that offers a private individual the right to sue but imposes requirements on this right that exclude most victims of ratters. law and policy, though, can meaningfully improve the status quo and ensure that the public is protected.

In the case of the government’s use of RATs against the public, the process is comically and characteristically opaque. As one of the authors of a recent policy paper reviewing the legal, technological, and policy issues surrounding RATs, I've given a lot of thought to the problem and how we can fix it.

The jargon that ratters use underscores the power dynamic—ratted computers are called "slaves." reported, envisions indiscriminately infecting millions with malware that has the capability for remote video surveillance by webcam.

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