6th Circuit: Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Requires More than Misuse of Authorized Access

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September 9, 2020

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The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) prohibits individuals from intentionally accessing a computer without authorization or exceeding their authorized access in certain situations. On September 9, 2020, in Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Serv., Inc. v. Kraft, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal stated the phrase “exceeds authorized access” in the CFAA requires more than individuals’ misuse of information that they were authorized to access. Rather, “exceeds authorized access” refers to things like hacking into systems or files individuals are not authorized to access.

There, employees allegedly emailed confidential and proprietary employer information to their personal emails before they resigned, and deleted data from their employer-provided devices. The employer had policies against use or disclosure of proprietary information and removing software or apps from employer devices. The court stated that even though the employees may have violated employer policies, access to information to which they were authorized in the course of their employment did not rise to the level of a claim under the CFAA. Moreover, violation of employer policies is not a criminal act.

This ruling highlights the need for employers to have employees sign nondisclosure agreements to protect their confidential, proprietary, trade-secret information, so that such an agreement can be enforced if violated.

This ruling aligns with the Second, Fourth, and Ninth Circuits’ interpretation of the CFAA, in opposition to the Sixth Circuit with the First, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits who have taken a broader interpretive approach. However, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on this issue in 2021.

Action Items

  1. Review confidentiality policies, agreements, and procedures to ensure proper protection of protected company information.
  2. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2020 ManagEase

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