Surf the Web and Go to Jail?

If you browse the Internet while at work, a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals should make your browsing less risky.  Many employees use the Internet at work for some personal use during work hours.  So, many employers have adopted policies prohibiting the use of work computers for nonbusiness purposes.  In United States v. Nosal, the Ninth Circuit answered the question of whether an employee who does violates such a policy commit a federal crime?

After leaving his job at an executive search firm, David Nosal convinced some of his former colleagues to help him start a competing business.  The employees used their login credentials to download source lists, names, and contact information from a confidential company database, and then transferred that information to Nosal.  The employees were authorized to access the database, but the company had a policy that forbade disclosing confidential information.

The government indicted Nosal on a number of charges, including violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. § 1030. The government contended that Nosal had aided and abetted the employees in “exceed[ing their] authorized access” with intent to defraud.

Nosal filed a motion to dismiss the CFAA counts, arguing that the statute targets only hackers, not individuals who access a computer with authorization but then misuse information they obtain by means of such access.

The court was asked to determine the boundaries of the CFAA. The Ninth Circuit agreed with Norsal that CFAA was intended to fight hacking rather than to “criminalize any unauthorized use of information obtained from a computer.”

As the court highlighted, an alternative reading of the statute would mean that “millions of unsuspecting individuals would find that they are engaging in criminal conduct” by violating their employers’ restrictions on Internet use by “g-chatting with friends, playing games, shopping or watching sports highlights.”

However, the Ninth Circuit may not have the final word on this issue. The government is still deciding whether to file a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.

How Can I Help?

If you have been the victim of this type of theft, there are other remedies to protect your valuable trade secrets.  If you need help to identify your trade secrets and how to protect them, or know someone that can use my help, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation by sending me an email or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +

Norman

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