The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected the government’s interpretation of a 1984 anti-hacking statute of the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA) in a 9-2 decision according to the Wall Street Journal.
In U.S. v. Nosal, former executive search firm employee David Nosal was accused by the government of having colleagues access a confidential database to get information for his new competing business.
The CFAA was created to combat computer crime and has been amended multiple times to keep up with the speed and complexity of technological changes, according to the Berkeley Law Review.
The government argued that the CFAA anti-hacker statute targets hackers and people who use a computer for an unauthorized purpose. The court rejected the argument as too inclusive, saying the government’s definition is a slippery-slope argument that includes anyone who violates their company’s corporate computer policy.
“The government’s construction of the statute would expand its scope far beyond computer hacking to criminalize any unauthorized use of information obtained from a computer,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the majority chronicled at law.com. “This would make criminals of large groups of people who would have little reason to suspect they are committing a federal crime.”
Translation: every time you log onto Facebook, send a personal email, check a sports score, or read an article (or this blog) at work you could be prosecuted for violating the CFAA.
Many companies have online restriction policies, prohibiting their employees from using non-work related sites. Under the government’s interpretation of the CFAA, this would constitute an example of “unauthorized use of information obtained from a computer-” that distinction could make thousands of employees liable under the CFAA.
Opponents of the decision argued that the Facebook example is an extreme, “alarmist” example rather than what the law actually entails.
Dennis Riordan, Nosal’s appellate counsel feels differently; “It really is a sign of relief, had the opinion gone the other way virtually everyone in the country would have to be worrying whether they are committing a federal crime.”
So go tweet this blog, post it on Facebook, and share it on LinkedIn and Google+. It’s legal (but don’t blame us if your boss sees).
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