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Supreme Court Limits Reach of Computer Crime Law


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Sunrise over the Supreme Court building.

Andrew Crocker, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that organization is "gratified that the Supreme Court acknowledged that overbroad application of the CFAA risks turning nearly any user of the Internet into a criminal based on arbitrary terms of service."

Credit: Erin Scott/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court narrowed the reach of a federal computer crime law Thursday, ruling that someone authorized to use a computer system does not violate the law when accessing data for an improper reason.

The case involved a former police sergeant in Georgia who was offered money to look up a driver's license record. A man said he'd pay around $5,000 for information about the record of a woman he thought might be an undercover officer.

It turned out to be an FBI sting. After the policeman used a patrol car computer terminal to look up the record, he was arrested and charged with violating the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That law makes it illegal "to access a computer and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter."

By a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that the law covers only those who look into areas of a computer system that they're not authorized to access. It does not cover people like the police officer who "have improper motives for obtaining the information that is otherwise available to them."

From NBC News
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