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LawCrossing Legal Daily News Feature

Scope of Computer Fraud Law Limited by the 9th Circuit In a major 9-2 decision on Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, San Francisco held that the government’s interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was broader than intended. The court opined that if the government’s interpretation was to be accepted then strict application would lead to the prosecution of millions of citizens for harmless activities. Judge Kozinski said the criminalization angle of the law, is applicable only to computer activity that “exceeds authorized access” and is not intended to address ‘how the information is used.’


credentials and steal confidential client information from his ex-employer with the alleged intention of

The bench also observed that if the government’s

starting a rival business.

interpretation of the law was to be accepted then rather than remaining as a simple statute to thwart hacking,

The former manager at Korn/Ferry International is yet

as intended by the scope of the law, it would become

to be tried for charges of mail fraud, theft of trade

a “sweeping Internet-policing mandate” criminalizing

secrets and conspiracy. It is exactly here that the court

any and all ‘unauthorized use of information’ from a

narrowed the scope of the Computer Fraud Act and

computer. Any ‘minor dalliances’ at work like emailing,

held that the law was to prevent hacking activity, while

or playing games, social networking, or watching TV

there were other laws to deal with ancillary criminal

could then be charged as criminal activity.

activities and intentions.

The present ruling of the 9th Circuit Appeals Court in

Dennis Riordan, a lawyer for Nosal, told the media that

U.S. v. Nosal, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 10-

the ruling “leaves in place all the purposes of the anti-

10038, varies significantly from the broadened scope

hacking statute, but it frees people from fearing they

read into the statute by three other federal appeals

could be prosecuted for violating arcane provisions of

courts. This increases the chances of the issue being

employer policies.”

pushed to the Supreme Court and the apex court sitting to define the scope of the law for guidance.

Nosal had made his appeal on the grounds that the CFAA counts against him do not survive as the 1984

The accused in the case, David Nossal, was charged

law had been targeted at computer hackers and not at

with convincing former colleagues to use their

people who misuse legally obtained data.


Scope of Computer Fraud Law Limited by the 9th Circuit  

Ninth Circuit Appeals Court narrows scope of application of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

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