Diversified majority of the six judges refused to read the Computer Fraud Law extensively

Opinion analysis

Supreme Court Decide Thursday at Van Buren v. United States Provides the first serious review of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, one of the most important criminal laws involving computer-related crimes. Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s opinion of the majority 0f 6 firmly rejected the broad interpretation of the law that the Justice Department has pressured in recent years.

Among other things, the CFAA criminalizes “exceeding authorized access” to a computer.Crucially, the statute defines the term as “access to a computer with authorization and use that access to obtain…information…information that the visitor does not have the right to obtain.” From neighbor Is the user violating the law by accessing information for improper purposes, or is the user violating the law only when they access information that they do not have the right to obtain. For example, in this case, a Georgian police officer named Nathan Van Buren accepted bribes for license plate inspection. He has the right to carry out license plate inspection, but not for illegal purposes. The lower court upheld the CFAA conviction (because he did not have the right to inspect the license plate records for private purposes). The Supreme Court disagrees and adopts the narrow interpretation of CFAA. According to this clause, only when users access information they do not have the right to obtain, it constitutes a crime.

For Barrett, the key to understanding the law is that users only get and so To obtain” (my emphasis). She wholeheartedly accepted Van Buren’s point of view, and quoted opinions from Black’s Law Dictionary, etc., thinking that the word “so” is “a reference term that reminds people of the way it is stated same way. “” In that reading, the key question was, according to the law, “whether a person has the right to obtain relevant information in the same way as described.” “Barrett directly quoted Van Buren’s abstract and found the answer to the question in the previous sentence of the regulation: “The only way to obtain the information already specified in the definition clause is’via computer [one] Otherwise, access is authorized. ‘” In Barrett’s words, the law prohibits access to “information that is not allowed to be obtained By using a computer that he has access to“(Barrett emphasized).

Barrett has no patience for the government’s interpretation. In this case, “so” generally refers to the “specific way or situation” of obtaining the information, so obtaining information that violates “any’specific and clear’ information conveyed will violate the law . Restrict the right of individuals to obtain information.” Barrett first noticed a practical strangeness in the reading: “An employee might legally extract information from folder Y in the morning for permitted purposes…but In the afternoon, the same information was illegally extracted from folder Y for prohibited purposes.” However, the more serious problem is that the government’s interpretation failed to explain “so”: “The relevant circumstances-making a person’s behavior illegal-did not Determined in the early stages of the regulations.” Barrett mocked the government for interpreting “so” as “capture”[e] any Circumstance-based restrictions Anywhere – In the United States Code, state regulations, private agreements, or anywhere else. “

After analyzing the regulations and rejecting the government’s interpretation, Barrett turned to the government’s “main rebuttal”: “Van Buren’s interpretation makes the word’so’ redundant” because even if there is no “so”, the regulations will use Computer access to information is criminalized and visitors have no right to obtain it. Barrett provided content for “so” by pointing out a hypothetical case in which one person has the right to obtain hard copies of the files, but not the right to obtain them from the computer. In this case, the criminal act will be to obtain information from the computer that the user does not have the right to “so obtain”. It would not be a crime to walk down the hall to them to obtain documents. However, according to Barrett’s interpretation, using a computer to obtain them would be a crime. Barrett emphasized that her reading “emphasizes a right to information: the right to use a computer to access information.”

Barrett also argued that the structure of the law supports her reading, pointing out the two clauses prohibiting completely “unauthorized” access to the computer and prohibiting access to the computer but “exceeding authorization.”[ing] Authorized access. “Adopt Van Buren’s point of view,”[t]The “unauthorized” clause…protects the computer itself from so-called external hackers”, while the “exceeding authorized access” clause…provides[s] Supplementary protection of certain information in the computer. “Barrett likes “Yes [the statute] Because it treats the terms of “unauthorized” and “exceeding authorization” access consistently. She described it as “a kind of upward or downward query-a person can or cannot access a computer system, and a person can or cannot access certain areas of the system.” “But the government’s refusal to read will not be the case, because only the “unauthorized access beyond” clause will “include purpose-based restrictions contained in contracts and workplace policies.” Even the government did not argue that these external restrictions apply. On the question of “whether someone uses a computer’unauthorized’. “Barrett pointedly pointed out that the government did not explain “why laws prohibit access to computer information, but not the computer itself for improper purposes.” “

Finally, Barrett turned to a topic that dominated the amicus curiae document, and spent most of the time Oral argument: The government’s reading will be criminalized “a staggering number of ordinary computer activities.” For Barrett, this reality “highlights the implausibility of the government’s interpretation,” and it provides “icing on the cake” (in a term coined by Judge Elena Kagan in an earlier case). Barrett pointed out that extending the regulations to “every violation of the computer use policy” would make “millions of originally law-abiding citizens” criminals, giving examples such as “beautifying online dating information” and “using a pseudonym on Facebook” “-Activities that violate the restrictions on the use of the website, and therefore belong to the government’s understanding of CFAA.

This already long article does not elaborate on all the arguments made by Barrett of the government and dissidents, which will undoubtedly consume the attention of scholars and lower courts in the next few years. Finally, given the attention this case has received and the response to the oral debate over the breadth of the government’s position, the final result here will not surprise a few informed observers. The most striking aspect of the decision may be the lineup, which includes the majority of judges Neil Gossac and Brett Kavanaugh, leaving only Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito to join Chief Justice Clarence Thomas. Objections.

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