Cybersecurity Business Law Blog

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Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

Court Order Provides CFAA Authorization to Access Computer, Even if Later Overturned

A party who accesses a computer pursuant to a court order authorizing him to seize and access the computer will not be found in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act if such order is later overturned.

“An essential element of a CFAA claim under 10 U.S.C. § 1030 is that the [defendant] accesses a computer ‘without authorization or exceeds authorized access.’ Hunn v. Dan Wilson Homes, Inc., 789 F.3d 573, 583-84 (5th Cir. 2015) (holding that ‘because [the defendant] did not exceed authorized access, he did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act’). Here, the state-court turnover orders authorized Shor to access the computers. Even though those orders were ultimately overturned, because Shor had authorization at the time pursuant to a court order to access the computers, Black does not state a claim under the CFAA. See id. (discussing CFAA claim, reasoning that the defendant accessed the computer while still employed at the plaintiff’s company). Land and Bay Gauging, L.L.C. v. Shor, 2015 WL 4978993 (5th Cir. Aug. 21, 2015).

See earlier post.

Would increasing CFAA penalties via the CISA Amendment really even help? I don’t think so.

As the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) is making its way through the Senate, it has stirred up more controversy with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s proposed amendment to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), that he argues, would give law enforcement more tools to fight hackers. The Amendment would provide for increased sentences (up to 20 years) of those who harm computers connected to “critical infrastructure.”

Continue reading “Would increasing CFAA penalties via the CISA Amendment really even help? I don’t think so.”

Fifth Circuit: Accessing Computer Per Later-Overturned Order Does Not Violate CFAA

In Land and Bay Gauging L.L.C. v. Shor, –Fed.Appx — (5th Cir. Aug. 21, 2015), the Fifth Circuit recently held that accessing a computer under the authority of a court order that authorizes the access is sufficient to render the access as being authorized, even if the order is later overturned. An essential element under a Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) claim is that the defendant accessed the computer “without authorization” or “exceeds authorized access.” When there is such an access that is authorized by a court order–at the time of the access–the later overturning of that order will not then render the access as having been unauthorized and there will be no violation of the CFAA. 

Additionally, the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine does not bar a Federal court from ruling on CFAA claims that stem from parties’ actions taken pursuant to a state court order where such claims do not attack the validity of the order itself, but instead, focus on the parties alleged violations of independent legal duties under the CFAA.

The CFAA Requires Access of a Computer — Not Just Access to Information

To have a valid CFAA claim, there must be an access to a computer.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is often referred to as an “access crime” because the act that is prohibited is accessing a computer. Misusing information that someone else obtained from a computer is not accessing a computer. Doing so may be wrong for other reasons, but it is not a CFAA violation because it does not entail accessing a computer.

The court in New Show Studios LLC v. Needle, 2014 WL 2988271 (C.D. Cal. June 30, 2014) addressed this issue where a former employee continued to use his former employer’s information after his employment terminated by having people who still worked for the company access information and supply it to him. The court dismissed the CFAA claim because the plaintiff did not plead any access to a computer:

To prevail on a CFAA claim, plaintiffs must establish, among other things, that defendants “intentionally accessed a computer.” LVRC Holdings LLC, 581 F.3d at 1132. But the FAC is devoid of any allegation that the defendants accessed any computer. Instead, the FAC only alleges that Needle “gained access to confidential and sensitive information.” FAC ¶ 37. Accessing plaintiffs’ information, however, is not the same thing as accessing plaintiffs’ computer systems, even if that information was at some point stored on those computers. The Ninth Circuit has specifically cautioned against reading the CFAA as an “expansive misappropriation statute.” Nosal, 676 F.3d at 857; see also id. at 863 (explaining that the “general purpose” of the CFAA “is to punish hacking—the circumvention of technological access barriers—not misappropriation of trade secrets”). If plaintiffs wish to assert a claim under the CFAA, they must plainly allege that defendants’ accessed their computer systems, and explain the basis for those allegations.

Using Single Individual Password to Access News Site to Share Info With Others is Not CFAA Interruption of Service

A person’s use of his single individual use password to access a news site to access content that he then shared with over 100 other people did not cause any impairment to the integrity or availability of data or loss due to interruption of service as required to bring a civil claim under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Capitol Audio Access, Inc. v. Umemoto, 980 F. Supp.2d 1154 (E.D. Cal. 2013).

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