As previously discussed, the federal appeals court in San Francisco had 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”) for trying to start a business that would compete with his former employer. Now, however, at the urging of the former employee’s counsel, by order dated October 27, the same court has agreed to rehear, en banc, its previous indictment reinstatement order.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the indictment on April 28 against former employee David 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 had reaffirmed that employers determine what access or authorization an employee has to an employer’s computer. It also pointed to specific examples of what the employer did to limit access to and authorized uses of information, including using 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 logs onto the company’s system.
The Ninth Circuit’s pending rehearing by the full court of the issue of unauthorized employee access to information under the CFAA puts its previous interpretation in doubt. It is clear, however, is that employers that wish to rely on the CFAA as a means of recovery against employees who steal data or take other actions to harm company computers must plan ahead. That is, employers must clearly define access rights and limitations to their information and information systems, and effectively communicate those rights and limitations to employees.