U.S. Supreme Court will consider controversial computer fraud law

| May 1, 2020 | Federal Crimes

Arkansas residents may find their use of computers and the internet inadvertently violating federal law.

CyberScoop reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to listen to a case challenging the applicability of the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Critics of the CFAA argue that this law does not reflect today’s use of technology.

The CFAA has a controversial history

The CFAA dates back to 1986, before individuals and businesses widely used the internet for research and communications. This law prohibits computer users from accessing another computer without permission or going beyond their authorized use of a computer. Proponents of internet freedom allege that the imprecise wording of the law may criminalize the use of work devices for personal business or subject security researchers to criminal charges. They also object to what they characterize as harsh penalties.

Lower courts disagree on the scope of the law. Some courts have ruled that someone may violate the CFAA by acting beyond the scope of written “terms of service” while other rulings have limited application of the law to unauthorized acts like hacking a website or bypassing passwords.

The Supreme Court will jump into the debate

The Supreme Court will review a case involving Nathan Van Buren, a former police officer convicted of violating the CFAA. An acquaintance, working undercover for the FBI, paid $6,000 to Van Buren to search a law enforcement database for information on an exotic dancer. Van Buren contests his conviction, claiming his job as a police officer gave him permission to search the database. CFAA critics expect that this case will help define the types of activities restricted by the law.

With widespread use of the internet and online communications, computer users may find themselves unintentionally violating federal law. For more information, people may wish to consult an attorney experienced in internet offenses.