Major Florida Computer Fraud Decision: How Broadly Should the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) Be Interpreted? Ninth Circuit Surprises in United States v. Nosal

June 11, 2012 by David S. Seltzer

If you face charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), you may want to pay close attention to an en banc decision just handed down by the Ninth Circuit in the case United States v. Nosal. At the very least, be sure that your Florida cyber crime attorney is up to speed with respect to its ramifications.

The case centers on accusations that an employee stole information from his employer and then used that stolen data to develop a competing business. The named defendant and his fellow conspirators allegedly used access to a special company computer to defraud their employer and then profit from that collection of data.

But the case's ramifications have become far broader and potentially momentous. The legal debate – and its consequences – may ultimately have ramifications for the scope of the CFAA.

The majority decision disagreed with the sister courts’ interpretation of the CFAA. Wrote Judge Kozinski: “These courts looked only at the culpable behavior of the defendants… and failed to consider the effect on millions of ordinary citizens caused by the statute’s unitary definition of 'exceeds authorized access.'"

Kozinski argued that the courts should have construed a criminal statute like the CFAA more narrowly. An overly broad interpretation could lead to downright Orwellian consequences. In Kozinski's words, such an outcome could lead to “minor dalliances…[becoming] federal crimes. While it’s unlikely that you will be prosecuted for watching on your work computer, you could be. Employers wanting to rid themselves of troublesome employees without following proper procedures could threaten to report them to the FBI.”

In general, Kozinski and the other judges in the majority felt that, if Congress meant to make the scope of criminal liability broader, lawmakers would have made that point more explicitly.

The dissent lashed back that Kozinski et al were attacking straw men: “Ridiculing scenarios not remotely presented by this case…[the majority invoked] far-fetched hypotheticals involving in neither theft nor intentional fraudulent conduct, but innocuous violations of office policy.”

This case is sure to heat up and excite legal scholars and Florida cyber crime lawyers. Many watchers believe the case could wind up on the docket of Supreme Court of the United States.

Of course, if you or someone you love faces a Florida cyber crime charge, you are likely less concerned with esoteric legal opinions and far more worried about what might happen to you or your family if you are convicted. Connect today for a free and comprehensive consultation with the skilled team here at the Seltzer Law, P.A. Call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE today.