In Pennsylvania and throughout the United States, it is illegal for people to access a computer in excess of the authorization that they have been granted or without authorization. In the employment context, there is a split among the federal circuits about the reach of the law that prohibits the unauthorized access of computers by current or former employees.
Under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the unauthorized access to data that is contained on a computer is illegal. However, the interpretation of the scope of the law varies in different circuits. Earlier in 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari about the scope of the CFAA, meaning that questions will still remain.
Some types of unauthorized access are obvious. For example, there is no argument that a hacker’s accessing a computer falls under the law. However, unauthorized access is less clear cut in the employment context. Some circuits have held that the law applies broadly to include an employee’s accessing an employer’s computer for purposes that are adverse to the employer’s interests. Others have taken the view that since the CFAA is a criminal statute, its application should be narrowly construed.
People who are charged with committing computer fraud under the CFAA because of their access to computers at their jobs might want to retain experienced criminal defense lawyers who practice in federal court. The lawyers may review the companies’ computer access and password-sharing policies and practices and use the information that they glean to build strong defense cases. The lawyers may be able to convince the U.S. attorneys not to move forward with the prosecution in some cases. In others, they may successfully negotiate pleas to lesser offenses or to civil offenses that do not carry the potential for prison time.