Top 3 CFAA Takeaways from Facebook v. Power Ventures Case in Ninth Circuit

Here are my top 3 key Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) takeaways from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Order and Amended Opinion issued on December 9, 2016 in Facebook, Inc. v. Power Ventures, Inc.

1.  A violation of the CFAA can occur when someone “has no permission to access a computer or when such permission has been revoked explicitly.”

First, a defendant can run afoul of the CFAA when he or she has no permission to
access a computer or when such permission has been revoked explicitly. Once permission has been revoked, technological gamesmanship or the enlisting of a third party to aid in access will not excuse liability.

*   *   *

The record shows unequivocally that power knew that it no longer had authorization to access Facebook’s computers, but continued to do so anyway. . . . Power admitted that, after receiving notice that its use of or access to Facebook was forbidden by Facebook, it “took, copied, or made use of data from the Facebook website without Facebook’s permission to do so.”

*   *   *

In sum, as it admitted, Power deliberately disregarded the cease and desist letter and accessed Facebook’s computers without authorization to do so. It circumvented IP barriers that further demonstrated that Facebook had rescinded permission for Power to access Facebook’s computers. We therefore hold that, after receiving written notification from Facebook on December 1, 2008, Power accessed Facebook’s computers “without authorization” within the meaning of the CFAA and is liable under that statute. (Opinion, p. 15-19).

2.  “[A] violation of the terms of use of a website — without more — cannot establish liability under the CFAA.” (Opinion, p. 15-16).

The foregoing statement was followed with this footnote:

One can imagine situations in which those two principles might be in tension–situations in which, for example, an automatic boilerplate revocation follows a violation of a website’s terms of use–but we need not address or resolve such questions on the stark facts before us.”

One of the most fundamental principles of law is that people be afforded notice of situations placing them in legal jeopardy. Over and over, the Court emphasizes that Power Ventures received actual notice and was subjectively aware that Facebook revoked its authorization to access the site. In looking at how courts handle “browse wrap” versus “click wrap” online agreements, they consistently look for some objective manifestation that the user was subjectively aware of the existence of the agreement and subjectively assented to it — whether actually reading it or understanding it or not.

In future terms of use cases claiming violations of the CFAA, it is likely that the courts will look to see if there was a manifestation of actual notice of the restrictions, prior to the restricted act, which was then consciously disregarded by engaging in the restricted act.

3.  Employee time spent investigating and responding to an incident can be used to calculate the $5,000 “Loss” that is a prerequisite for a civil CFAA claim.

First, we hold that Facebook suffered a loss within the meaning of the CFAA. The statute permits a private right of action when a party has suffered a loss of at least $5,000 during a one-year period. Id. § 1030(c)(4)(A)(i)(I). The statute defines “loss” to mean “any reasonable cost to any victim, including the cost of responding to an offense, conducting a damage assessment, and restoring the data, program, system, or information to its condition prior to the consequential damages incurred because of interruption of service.” Id. § 1030(e)(11). It is undisputed that Facebook employees spent many hours, totaling more than $5,000 in costs, analyzing, investigating, and responding to Power’s
actions. Accordingly, Facebook suffered a loss under the CFAA. (Opinion, p. 13-14).

 

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Shawn Tuma (@shawnetuma) is a business lawyer with an internationally recognized reputation in cybersecurity, computer fraud, and data privacy law. He is a Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Partner at Scheef & Stone, LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Texas that represents businesses of all sizes throughout the United States and, through its Mackrell International network, around the world.

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