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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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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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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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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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Third Circuit Affirms FTC’s Authority Over Companies’ Cybersecurity Practices

In a test of the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to police cybersecurity, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that the agency has broad power to take action against private sector companies which fail to take adequate steps to protect customer data.

In Federal Trade Commission v. Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, the Third Circuit upheld the FTC’s authority to pursue a lawsuit against the hotel and resort chain based on allegations that it failed to maintain reasonable data security standards.  After three successful cyber-attacks on Wyndham’s computer networks led to the theft of thousands of customers’ records, the FTC sued Wyndham in federal court, alleging that Wyndham’s cybersecurity practices were “unfair and deceptive trade practices.”  The district court denied Wyndham’s motion to dismiss, finding that the Commission had the authority to regulate data security practices.  On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding that the unfairness prong of Section 5 of the FTC Act authorized the FTC to bring enforcement actions for lax data security practices.

This is the first federal appellate decision finding that the FTC has broad cybersecurity enforcement authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act.  Since 2005, the FTC has settled 53 cases against companies related to data security.  Wyndham is one of two companies to challenge the FTC’s authority in this area.  The ruling opens the door for the FTC to commence additional enforcement actions against companies that do not employ reasonable data security practices, especially at a time when Congress has failed to pass comprehensive data security legislation.

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