Your employer might tell you that you shouldn’t be playing Candy Crush Saga on your work computer while you’re supposed to be productive, or that you can’t use various sites and services while at work, but a U.S. Court just ruled that breaking your employer’s computer policy isn’t a crime. Sure, it might get you fired in the long run, but you won’t be liable for any criminal charges.
As EFF writes in Gizmodo, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed with the government attempt to hold an employee criminally liable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for violating computer use restrictions imposed by the employer.
The ruling comes in a case that has received a lot of attention in the press lately. The United States v. Gilberto Valle or the “cannibal cop” case, is about a New York City police officer who was charged with conspiracy to kidnap for online posts he wrote on fetish sites about cannibalism.
The jury convicted Valle on all accounts – he was also charged with violating the CFAA for access police databases without a valid purpose, but the appeals court overruled the jury’s verdict on conspiracy charges. Valle didn’t do anything in that regard: “the nearly yearlong kidnapping conspiracy alleged by the government is one in which no one was ever kidnapped, no attempted kidnapping ever took place, and no real-world, non-Internet-based steps were ever taken to kidnap anyone,” the trial court said.
The EFF sided with Valle in an amicus brief, saying that no matter how “repugnant and unsettling” an online fantasy might be, it’s not criminal, without evidence pointing in that direction.
The EFF filed a different amicus brief with the appeals court to overturn the initial CFAA conviction, which would give the government precedent to prosecute similar cases against people misusing their computer at work.
The Second Circuit agreed with the privacy group, throwing out Valle’s CFAA conviction.
“We decline to adopt the prosecution’s construction [of the CFAA], which would criminalize the conduct of millions of ordinary computer users,” the court says. “While the Government might promise that it would not prosecute an individual for checking Facebook at work, we are not at liberty to take prosecutors at their word in such matters. A court should not uphold a highly problematic interpretation of a statute merely because the Government promises to use it responsibly.”
Legal documents regarding this particular case are available at the source links.