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Category: Litigation

The Supreme Court Punts on Clarifying the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (“CFAA”) has generated controversy and disagreement among courts and commentators regarding the scope of its application.  The statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1030, which provides for both criminal and civil penalties, prohibits accessing a computer or protected computer “without authorization” or in a manner “exceeding authorized access.”  Courts are divided as to the meaning of these phrases, yet the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined the opportunity to resolve the circuit split that has developed, leaving the exact scope of this important statute in question.

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Justice Department Accuses Google of “Alarming” Tactics in Fight over SCA Search Warrant

The ongoing dispute between the government and Google concerning the company’s refusal to hand over customer data stored on foreign servers has taken an odd twist.  Now, the Justice Department is demanding that Google be sanctioned for not abiding by the court’s most recent decision—ordering it to produce data associated with 22 email accounts—and calling Google’s conduct “a willful and contemptuous disregard of various court orders.”  The case is In the Matter of the Search of Content that Is Stored at Premises Controlled by Google, No. 16-mc-80263 (N.D. Cal.).

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California Court Weighs in on the FTC’s Data Security Enforcement Authority

Yesterday, a District Court in Northern California weighed in on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to protect consumers from “unfair” and “deceptive” data security practices.  The decision, which granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion to dismiss, is a mixed bag for the Commission.

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Equifax: The Empire State Strikes Back

Today, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he has directed the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to issue a new regulation requiring “credit reporting agencies to register with” the DFS, as well as comply with the Department’s “first-in-the-nation cybersecurity standard.”  According to Governor Cuomo, the Equifax breach was a “wakeup call,” and New York is now “raising the bar for consumer protections” with the “hope” the DFS’s approach “will be replicated across the nation.”

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Equifax Week Two: It Keeps Getting Worse

The drumbeat of bad news continues for credit monitoring agency Equifax Inc., after its disclosure on September 7th of a massive data breach – compromising Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other personally identifiable information – that might affect as many as 143 million Americans.

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    After Equifax: What Should the Public Do?

    As we have discussed in previous posts, Equifax Inc. suffered a cybersecurity breach potentially affecting 143 million individuals in the United States.  Although Equifax’s investigation is ongoing, the data at risk includes Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses.  Equifax has also said that the breach may have involved driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, and “certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers.”  That leaves just about everyone asking: What should we do?

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    Equifax Hack: The Morning After

    Within hours after Equifax disclosed that hackers had compromised the personal information of nearly 143 million Americans, the Atlanta-based credit reporting agency was hit with a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon.

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    8th Circuit Finds Standing in Data Breach Case but Dismisses on Pleading Deficiencies

    In one of the first federal appellate court rulings following the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Robins v. Spokeo, the Eighth Circuit delivered a pyrrhic victory for customers victimized by a data breach.  In Kuhns v. Scottrade, the Eighth Circuit ruled that, although the plaintiff had established standing to pursue a claim against Scottrade, Inc. resulting from a data breach that occurred in 2013, the customer failed to sufficiently allege that the brokerage firm breached its contractual obligations and affirmed dismissal of the case.

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    Judge Sides with Government over Google in the Latest Battle Rematch over the Territorial Reach of the SCA

    Another federal judge has rejected the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s interpretation of the Stored Communications Act (SCA), and has ordered Google to hand over customer email traffic—wherever located—to U.S. law enforcement.  More than a year ago, the Second Circuit held that Microsoft Corp. was not required to produce customer emails stored on foreign servers in response to an SCA warrant.  Since then, the Second Circuit’s ruling has been rejected by three different federal courts around the country.

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    DFS Cyber Regulation Countdown: Who Should Certify Compliance?

    Companies subject to New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) new cybersecurity regulation should be preparing to comply with the first round of requirements by the upcoming August 28th deadline: enacting a cybersecurity program and policies, implementing user access privileges, designating a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), employing qualified personnel, and implementing an incident response plan.

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    Follow the Money and Beware the Extra “L”: First Department Sustains Claims against Fund Administrator After Hackers Grab Millions

    A legal feud is underway between the world’s biggest hedge fund administrator and a former client over an email scam that resulted in hackers stealing millions in client funds.  And not surprisingly, the time-honored tradition of finger pointing is on full display as each party accuses the other of employing sub-par internal controls and lackluster cybersecurity standards.  

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    DFS Issues Additional Guidance for Cyber Regulation Compliance

    New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) has issued additional guidance for compliance with the state’s sweeping cybersecurity regulation that went into effect earlier this year.  Companies covered by the regulation must comply with the first round of requirements by August 28th.

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    When Health Data Goes Missing: Largest Reported Ransomware Attack

    In the aftermath of two powerful global ransomware attacks, a Michigan-based medical equipment provider has disclosed that hackers “encrypted our data files” and accessed more than 500,000 patient records in what is believed to be the largest reported ransomware attack on health care information.

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    11th Circuit Hears Oral Argument in LabMD Case

    Yesterday morning, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, sitting in Miami, heard oral argument in the case of LabMD, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission, No. 16-16270.

    For purposes of this post, we presume readers are familiar with this case, which we’ve blogged about extensively since the Federal Trade Commission lodged an Administrative Complaint against LabMD back in 2013.  Briefly, the core question on appeal is whether the FTC overstepped its authority under Section 5(n) of the Federal Trade Commission Act (codified at 15 U.S.C. § 45(n)) when it initiated an enforcement action against LabMD, a Georgia medical testing lab, after certain patient data files were apparently misappropriated, but no patent data actually fell into the wrong hands, and no individual patient suffered any cognizable injury, such as identity theft.

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    A question of harm: LabMD to face off with FTC at 11th Circuit

    In a consequential test of the Federal Trade Commission’s authority as a data security regulator, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will hear argument tomorrow in a case that will determine whether the agency must show a concrete consumer injury as an element of an enforcement action, just as private plaintiffs have been required to do for years.

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    NYS Cyber Regulation Countdown: Continuous Monitoring

    In our series of posts leading up to the August 28th deadline for the first phase of requirements under New York’s cybersecurity regulation, the Patterson Belknap team looks at issues that institutions face as they implement the new rules.

    In complying with the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) cybersecurity regulation, financial institutions have a choice.  They can either employ “continuous monitoring” or, instead, conduct annual “penetration testing” and bi-annual “vulnerability assessments.”

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    DFS Cyber Compliance Nightmare?

    New survey reports less than half of financial firms will meet deadline

    A new survey by the Ponemon Institute reports that less than half of the financial institutions covered by New York’s sweeping new cybersecurity regulation say they will “likely” meet next February’s compliance deadline. And even more stunning is the fact that only 13% of those institutions surveyed reported “with certainty” that they would be in full compliance with the regulation by next year.

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    NYS Cyber Regulation Countdown: “Risk Assessment” – Now or Later?

    In our series of posts leading up to the August 28th deadline for the first phase of requirements under New York’s cybersecurity regulation, the Patterson Belknap team looks at issues that institutions face as they implement the new rules.

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    Ninety Days and Counting: NY Cyber Regulation’s First Deadline

    Faced with an approaching August 28th deadline, the more than 3,000 financial institutions that do business in New York should be knee-deep in implementing the first wave of requirements under the State’s sweeping and unprecedented cybersecurity regulation.

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    The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Will Need To Wait Another Day In New York’s Commercial Division

    Justice Shirley Kornreich recently issued one of the few New York state court decisions  that address the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).  Spec Simple, Inc. v. Designer Pages Online LLC,  No. 651860/2015, 2017 BL 160865 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 10, 2017).  The CFAA criminalizes both accessing a computer without authorization and exceeding authorized access and thereby obtaining information from any protected computer.  Id. at *3 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C)). The CFAA also provides a civil cause of action to any person who suffers damage or loss because of a violation of the CFAA.  Id. at *4 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1030(g)).  As discussed below, the decision provides a helpful look into the interpretation of CFAA claims in the future.

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    Facebook Warrant Case: Stark Debate and a Divided Court

    We previously posted about a case before the New York Court of Appeals that concerned whether Facebook has the legal standing to challenge search warrants seeking its users’ data.  In April, the court sided with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and rejected Facebook’s challenge.  The three opinions by the judges—particularly the concurrence by Judge Jenny Rivera—provide insight into this evolving area of law.

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    Digital Divide Deepens: Tech Community Backs Second Circuit in Clash with Magistrates over Reach of U.S. Warrants

    The technology community took aim at a recent federal magistrate’s ruling that ordered Google Inc. to comply with search warrants seeking customer emails stored on servers abroad, calling the decision “an impermissible extraterritorial application of U.S. law.” In rejecting a recent federal appeals court decision in a similar case in favor of Microsoft Corp., U.S. Magistrate Thomas J. Reuter in Philadelphia ruled that transferring emails from a foreign server to the U.S. was not tantamount to a seizure beyond American borders. The technology companies urged the court to reject the “fiction that such a foreign search and seizure is a domestic act….”

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    Privilege Waiver: Is Your File-Sharing Site a Public Park Bench?

    While courts and the Federal Rules of Evidence take an increasingly pragmatic approach to the question of when inadvertent disclosure of privileged information results in waiver, a recent federal magistrate’s ruling serves as a potent warning that use of a file-sharing site – without sufficient safeguards – may constitute a waiver. Harleysville Insurance Co. v. Holding Funeral Home, Inc., No. 1:15-cv-00057 (W.D. Va. Feb. 9, 2017) is the first published decision to find that the use of a file-sharing site to exchange potentially privileged information constituted a waiver of the attorney-client privilege and work product protection—because the company failed to password protect its transmission.

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    Does Facebook Have the Right to Challenge Search Warrants Seeking Facebook Users’ Data? New York’s Highest Court Hears Argument

    Facebook is the latest social media giant to push back on law enforcement efforts to seek user information.  On Tuesday, the New York Court of Appeals heard oral argument in a case focusing on whether Facebook has the right—or legal standing—to challenge bulk search warrants issued by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for its users' data.  The case is In re 381 Search Warrants Directed to Facebook, Inc. and Dated July 23, 2013.

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    Third Circuit Finds FCRA Violation Alone Confers Standing for Data Breach Suit

    The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently ruled that a data breach class action may proceed on the basis of a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violation alone, even where the putative class members do not allege that they were actually harmed by the breach.  The ruling, which both relies on and distinguishes the Supreme Court’s recent analysis of FCRA standing in Spokeo v. Robins, suggests that at least in the Third Circuit, “injury” from a data breach may be presumed from the fact of the breach itself.  This, in turn, could have the effect of expanding potential liability for any consumer-facing entity that suffers a breach.

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    Second Circuit Court of Appeals Denies Rehearing in Microsoft Case

    Back in December 2013, a U.S. magistrate issued a seemingly routine warrant in a narcotics case demanding that Microsoft turn over messages from a customer’s email account that resided on a server in Ireland.  That warrant, which issued under a 1986 law called the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2703, is still being debated today.

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    Keeping Section 5 Alive: The FTC Brings Suit Against D-Link

    The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has filed suit against Taiwan-based D-Link Corporation and D-Link Systems, Inc. (collectively, “D-Link”), manufacturers and sellers of home networking devices including routers, cameras, baby monitors, and video recorders.  The lawsuit claims that D-Link failed to take reasonable steps to protect its devices from known and foreseeable risks of unauthorized access.

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    LabMD’s 11th Circuit FTC Appeal: The Opening Shot

    Firing the opening salvo in its appeal of one of the most controversial data security decisions by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in years, LabMD accused the agency of overstepping its authority and “destroy[ing] [the] small medical testing company” in the process.

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    “Life is Short. Have an Affair.” And Then Settle With the FTC.

    Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced a settlement with the owners of “dating site” AshleyMadison.com, arising from a July 2015 data breach that received broad media coverage.  According to a proposed order filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia, the operators of the website are also simultaneously settling with thirteen states—including New York—and the District of Columbia.

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    Wake-Up Call: Law Firms in the Cybersecurity Crosshairs

    Last week marked the first time a U.S. law firm was publicly named in a class action data security lawsuit.  Originally filed in April 2016, the class action complaint in Shore v. Johnson & Bell, Ltd., 16-cv-4363 (N.D. Ill.), was unsealed last week after months of back-and-forth over whether the alleged security flaws had been patched.  The complaint accuses Johnson & Bell, a mid-sized Chicago firm, of “systematically exposing confidential client information and storing client data without adequate security.”  The lawsuit makes no claim that any client information has been stolen or misused.  Even so, the filing of this complaint amplifies the risks already facing law firms – including reputational – at a time when data security is a top concern for law firms and their clients.

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    Hints of a Narrowing of the FTC’s Section 5 Authority Under a Trump Presidency

    The transition of power from President Barack Obama to President-Elect Donald Trump is underway.  Although President-Elect Trump did not lay out specific policy prescriptions about data privacy or consumer protection during his candidacy, his recent choice of Dr. Joshua D. Wright to lead transition efforts at the Federal Trade Commission provides some hints as to the direction the agency may take under a Trump administration.

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    When Using a Computer Becomes a Crime, Part Two: ACLU, Facebook Weigh In on Ninth Circuit’s Answer

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) and the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) have weighed in on Facebook’s high-profile dispute with a social media aggregation company over whether it had unlawfully accessed Facebook’s computers.  The EFF and ACLU warned the Ninth Circuit that the panel’s ruling for Facebook risks chilling important investigations and makes “potential criminals out of millions of ordinary Americans on the basis of innocuous online behavior.”  The case is Facebook, Inc. v. Power Ventures, Inc., No. 13-17102. 

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