Aime Dempsey Quoted in “Supreme Court Ruling Limits Use of Hacking Law”


Aime Dempsey, Member of the Firm in the Litigation and Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practices, in the firm’s New York office, was quoted in ZDNet, in “Supreme Court Ruling Limits Use of Hacking Law,” by Jonathan Greig.

Following is an excerpt:

The Supreme Court ruled against the government in a case centered around the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) on Thursday, writing that the Justice Department's interpretation of the law was too broad and effectively attached "criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity."

The 6-3 decision put a limit on how the federal government can use the law to prosecute those who unlawfully access a system. In her majority opinion, Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote that Nathan Van Buren -- a police officer from Cummings, Georgia who was convicted for taking a bribe to look up a license plate -- did not violate the CFAA because as an officer he was given full access to the license plate database.

Barrett was joined by Justices Sotomayor, Gorsuch, Kagan, Kavanaugh and Breyer, while Thomas, Alito and Chief Justice Roberts dissented. The CFAA is split into two clauses, criminalizing not just the unlawful entry into a system but the specifically unlawful access to certain systems or folders.

Barrett argued that by saying Van Buren exceeded his "authorized access" as a police officer, the government was criminalizing "every violation of a computer-use policy." If that was the case, Barrett said it would mean that "millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens are criminals."

"Take the workplace. Employers commonly state that computers and electronic devices can be used only for business purposes," Barrett wrote. "So on the Government's reading of the statute, an employee who sends a personal e-mail or reads the news using her work computer has violated the CFAA." …

Lawyers and legal experts had a wide range of responses to the ruling depending on the client base. …

Epstein Becker Green lawyer Aime Dempsey explained that since the law was passed in the 1980s, it was used to prosecute hackers and as a way for companies to sue certain employees for damages and other penalties.

Dempsey echoed Liebermann's sentiment, telling ZDNet that employers needed to place more stringent limits on employee access now that the Supreme Court has ruled that even if unlawful access may violate company policy, it would not violate the CFAA.

"If a company has a policy that someone will get fired if they misuse information, this decision wouldn't change that at all. It would only change the access to this particular statute of the CFAA criminally or civilly," Dempsey said.