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Supreme Court Narrows Reach of Computer Crime Statute

On June 3, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its first-ever interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the federal criminal and civil statute intended to deter and punish unauthorized access to computer systems. The decision in Van Buren v. United States adopts a narrow construction of a key provision of the CFAA addressing whether a computer user “exceeds authorized access.” In doing so, the Court echoed the concerns of many commentators who have warned against a broad reading of the statute that might over-criminalize computer activity.

The Court’s decision removed the CFAA as a tool to address certain circumstances when someone accesses a computer in violation of an authorized purpose, such as violations of workplace technology policies or a website’s terms of service. In Van Buren, the Court rejected the argument that violation of a purpose-based restriction can be the basis for a violation of this portion of the CFAA. Because this type of conduct is not actionable under the CFAA, companies may turn to technological access controls to control sensitive data rather than relying on internal policies.

The Court’s limits on the scope of the CFAA may be favorable to cybersecurity researchers, who often access computer systems in violation of terms-of-use to detect security vulnerabilities or other threats. Until Van Buren, white-hat cybersecurity researchers were deterred from carrying out such tests due to the threat of criminal prosecution under the CFAA for exceeding authorized access. Click here to read the full article on this and get more details.

Copyright © 2021 Robinson & Cole LLP. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 168
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About this Author

Linn F. Freedman, Robinson Cole Law Firm, Cybersecurity and Litigation Law Attorney, Providence
Partner

Linn Freedman practices in data privacy and security law, cybersecurity, and complex litigation. She provides guidance on data privacy and cybersecurity compliance to a full range of public and private clients across all industries, such as construction, education, health care, insurance, manufacturing, real estate, utilities and critical infrastructure, marine, and charitable organizations. Linn is a member of the firm's Business Litigation Group and chairs its Data Privacy + Cybersecurity Team. She is also a member of the Financial Services Cyber-Compliance Team (CyFi ...

401-709-3353
Seth B. Orkand Business Litigation Attorney Robinson Cole
Partner

Seth B. Orkand focuses his practice on white-collar criminal defense, government and corporate internal investigations, research misconduct investigations, college and university disciplinary actions, and complex commercial litigation. He is a member or the firm’s Business Litigation Group. 

Government Enforcement and White-Collar Criminal Defense

Seth’s experience includes representation of individuals and corporations in federal and state white-collar criminal matters as well as a variety of...

617-557-5915
Kathryn Rattigan Attorney Cybersecurity Data Privacy
Associate

Kathryn Rattigan is a member of the firm's Business Litigation Group and Data Privacy + Cybersecurity Team. She advises clients on data privacy and security, cybersecurity, and compliance with related state and federal laws. Kathryn also provides legal advice regarding the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. She represents clients across all industries, such as insurance, health care, education, energy, and construction.

Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Compliance

Kathryn helps clients comply...

401-709-3357
Kevin Daly Complex Commercial Litigation Attorney
Counsel

Kevin P. Daly focuses his practice on complex commercial litigation and trade compliance issues. He is a member of Robinson+Cole's Business Litigation Group and Manufacturing Industry Team.

Litigation

Kevin represents a variety of clients, including manufacturers, insurance companies, and other businesses, in complex litigation. He has represented clients in class actions (including insurance class actions, consumer class actions, and class actions related to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act), and product liability actions. He represents businesses in...

860.275.8368
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