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Federal Appeals Court Restricts Federal Computer Fraud Prosecutions

April 11, 2012 05:32:00 am

In a highly anticipated test of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit construed it narrowly, saying prosecutors can't use it to go after someone who checks sports scores from a work computer or fibs on Facebook, reports The Recorder. The 1984 law is an anti-hacking statute, not a tool to make federal criminals of anyone who violates employer computer policies or a website's terms of service, an en banc court panel said by a 9-2 vote. The federal prosecution view, wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, "would make criminals of large groups of people who would have little reason to suspect they are committing a federal crime."

The ruling affirms a ruling dismissing much of the government's case against David Nosal, a former employee of an executive search firm accused of having colleagues access a confidential database to get information for his new competing business. Under the government's view of the law, said the court, the "short and homely" person's claim on Craigslist to be tall, dark and handsome could earn the poster a "handsome orange jumpsuit." Vast numbers of teens who used Google could have been deemed "juvenile delinquents" since until last month the company's use agreement technically barred minors from using its services.

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