I saw an interesting article about some controversy at Liberty University and its president Jerry Falwell, Jr. It seems Mr. Falwell is confused about breaking rules and breaking the law. There’s a difference.
Mr. Falwell is upset about a Politico article reporting on operations at Liberty that apparently include business deals benefiting Falwell’s family and friends. The article also discusses Falwell’s proclivity for nightclubs and discussing his sex life with employees. Not flattering.
Included in the Politico article are e-mails forwarded by Liberty employees in which Mr. Falwell insulted students, staff and parents. And it’s those e-mails that seem to have really gotten under Mr. Falwell’s apparently thin skin.
He contends that whoever forwarded the e-mails committed “a crime” because the policy of Liberty is that the e-mails are property of the university and cannot be shared with outsiders.
I have no idea what Liberty University’s policy is on e-mails. It may very well be that it indeed prohibits sharing internal e-mails. And employees who did so could likely be fired for cause. But that doesn’t make it a crime.
To be clear here, there is no allegation of which I’m aware that someone hacked into the system and obtained the e-mails. That would be illegal. It appears instead that whoever shared the e-mails properly received them, but simply chose to ignore the internal rules. So the leaker had authorized access to the information. And that authorization likely dooms any criminal charge here.
The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act criminalizes unauthorized access. But it doesn’t allow a private entity, like Liberty, to essentially create a private criminal code. For good reason. If Mr. Falwell is skimming money from Liberty it’s probably a good thing for the public (or at least the Liberty community) to know about it. And it would be pretty weird if the whistleblower could go to jail because leaking violated a private code of conduct instituted by Mr. Falwell.
I hope my readers will pardon the pun, but I don’t think Mr. Falwell has a prayer.