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Reach of federal computer law narrowed by Supreme Court

On Behalf of | Aug 1, 2021 | Computer Crime |

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Computers are everywhere, and Michigan residents may regularly use them at work, at home, and at school. Some of those devices are personally owned by their users, but many of them are owned by organizations and entities with which individuals work. Often, organizations have rules and policies that limit how individuals may use their devices and for what purposes the devices may be accessed.

Around 25 years ago, the federal government enacted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA). Recently, the scope of CFAA has come under review by the United States Supreme Court. A recent ruling narrows the reach of the law and just who may be prosecuted for allegedly wrongful computer use. This post will explain the case that changed the CFAA what it means for computer users across the country.

The Van Buren case

The case that brought the matter to the Supreme Court involved a police officer named Van Buren. Van Buren accepted money to run a license plate check on a police office computer. The purpose of the license plate check was not tied to a criminal investigation and was done as a private financial transaction. Van Buren was prosecuted under CFAA and appealed his decision because though his motives for running the license place check were presumptively wrongful, as a police officer he had authorization to access the computer he used to do it.

The decision

In a 6-3 ruling, the majority of the Supreme Court agreed with Van Buren. It determined that the scope of CFAA does not cover individuals who use devices for wrongful purposes that they have authorization to access and use the device in the first place. Holding that doing so would cause anyone who lies on social media, or does personal business on a work computer, could be prosecuted under CFAA, the Supreme Court opted to narrow the scope of CFAA to focus on specific allegedly wrongful use of computer devices.

As readers can tell from this matter, laws change,  How they are interpreted changes over time. It is important that when facing a criminal defense matter you work with a legal professional who understand the relevant laws on a nuanced level and stays on top of legal changes that could impact your case.