The federal appeals court in San Francisco has reinstated an indictment charging a former employee of Korn/Ferry International, Inc., with violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (the “CFAA”) in trying to start a business that would compete with his former employer. .

The indictment in United States v. Nosal, which a lower court dismissed, alleged that the employee, David Nosal, “knowingly and with intent to defraud” exceeded his authorized access to his employer’s computer system for the purpose of setting up a competing business. Nosal was an executive at Korn/Ferry and subject to a non-competition agreement. After leaving the company, he started a competing business, soliciting the help of three Korn/Ferry employees to provide him with source lists, names, and contact information from a Korn/Ferry proprietary and confidential database. Employee access to the database was specifically restricted, except for legitimate Korn/Ferry business.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the indictment on April 28 against Nosal on the basis of its interpretation that “an employee exceeds authorization under [the CFAA] when the employee uses that authorized access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled in that manner to obtain or alter.” The Court reaffirmed that employers determine what access or authorization an employee has to an employer’s computer, and pointed to specific examples of steps the employer in this case took to limit access to and authorized uses of information. These examples include the use of unique usernames and passwords, requiring employees to enter into agreements that explained the limitations on the use of certain company information, and causing a notice concerning data security and confidentiality to pop-up on each employee’s computer screen whenever the employee logged on to the company’s system.

Joining the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits, the Court ruled that as long as an employee has knowledge of an employer’s limitations on authorized use of a computer system, the employee will exceed authorized access under the CFAA whenever he or she violates those limitations or goes beyond his or her authorized access with an “intent to defraud” by an action that “furthers the intended fraud and obtains anything of value. It is as simple as that.”
The message to employers from this case is that if you want to be able to effectively use the CFAA as a means of recovery when employees steal data or take other actions to harm company computers or data, you will need to plan ahead. That is, employers will need to clearly define access rights and limitations to their information and information systems, and effectively communicate those rights and limitations to employees.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.