June 17, 2021

Volume XI, Number 168

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“So” What? SCOTUS Adopts Narrow Interpretation of CFAA

It’s not every day the U.S. Supreme Court issues an opinion relevant to this blog, so we are understandably excited when it does.

In a landmark decision, the Court has ruled that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. § 1030 et seq., does not prohibit improper use of computer information that an individual was authorized to access. Rather, the law prohibits obtaining information from areas of a computer, such as files, folders, or databases, that are outside the limits of the individual’s authorized access. Van Buren v. United States, No. 19-783 (June 3, 2021).

The Court reached its conclusion through an exercise in statutory construction fit for a law school exam, dissecting competing interpretations of the word “so.” You can read more about the Court’s interpretive analysis and the implications for employers in our article here.

The upshot is that this decision will have a significant impact on “departing employee” cases. Improper use of information that an employee was authorized to access (a common fact pattern) will not trigger CFAA liability, removing one pathway into federal court. Without the CFAA’s protection for such conduct, employers have even greater reason to protect their information from misuse through enforceable contracts and thoughtful security protocols, among other methods. And although no longer in violation of the CFAA, improper acquisition or use of information to which an employee has authorized access may still trigger liability under a host of other laws, including the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2021National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 159
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Clifford R. Atlas Protection Against Unfair Competition Attorney Jackson Lewis New York, NY
Principal

Clifford Atlas is a Principal in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is the Co-Leader of the Non-Competes and Protection Against Unfair Competition Practice Group.

Mr. Atlas works extensively with clients in developing and drafting employment contracts and restrictive covenant agreements, and developing programs to best protect clients’ confidential business information. He has significant experience in prosecuting as well as defending actions involving breach of non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, employee raiding,...

212-545-4017
Erik J. Winton, Jackson Lewis, Principal, Retaliation Lawyer, restrictive covenant drafting attorney
Principal

Erik J. Winton is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is the Co-Leader of the firm's Non-Competes and Protection Against Unfair Competition practice group. His practice focuses on restrictive covenant drafting, counseling, litigation avoidance and litigation. He regularly provides valuable counsel to clients in New England and across the country regarding these issues.

Mr. Winton has extensive experience as a litigator, including successful first chair jury trial experience. He represents employers in...

617-367-0025
Jonathan L. Crook Employment Litigation Attorney Jackson Lewis Raleigh, NC
Associate

Jonathan L. Crook is an Associate in the Raleigh, North Carolina, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He represents businesses in matters relating to unfair competition, restrictive covenants, trade secrets, and various employment issues.

Mr. Crook has substantial experience litigating in state and federal courts at the trial and appellate levels, as well as advising his clients on day-to-day compliance and best practices. Before joining Jackson Lewis, Mr. Crook practiced employment law and litigation in a regional mid-size law firm in Raleigh. Mr. Crook began his...

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