In a recent case, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued the latest opinion regarding whether former employees violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA” or the “Act”) before they joined a competitor by downloading electronic information without authorized access. The CFAA, 18 U.S.C. §1030, makes it unlawful to take information from a protected computer of an employer by unlawful means.
In Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. v. Robert Feldstein, et al., USDC (D.Mass.), Civil Action No. 13-40007-TSH, decided on June 10, 2013, the Court adopted the “narrow view” in interpreting the CFAA, ruling that the former employees had not violated the Act where the employees had downloaded confidential information “with authorization” to do so. Judge Hillman, writing for the Court, rejected the alternative “broad view” which states that even though the former employees had authorization to access the information, the former employees nevertheless violate the CFAA when they “exceed their authorization.” The Court said that “[p]roponents of the narrower interpretation suggest that Congress’s intent in passing the CFAA was to address computer hacking activities and not to supplement state misappropriation of trade secrets laws.”
In this case, four former employees worked for Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (“AMD”), a microprocessor manufacturer. All had authorization from AMD to access confidential technical and business strategy information during their employment. They all left AMD to work for a competitor. AMD sued the former employees claiming that they had copied proprietary data from AMD’s computers before they left the company.
Different courts have taken different interpretations of the CFAA regarding these alternative views. Compare, for example, United States v. Nosal, 676 F.3d 854 (9th Cir. 2012) with United States v. Rodriquez, 628 F.3d 1258 (11th Cir. 2010).
Judge Hillman also held that, at the time of his ruling, the First Circuit had not clearly articulated its position. See EF Cultural Travel BV v. Explorica, Inc., 274 F.3d 577 (1st Cir. 2001).
As the courts deal with these very interesting theories, we will continue to write about the latest developments by the courts in interpreting the CFAA.