Putting the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to Use, TV Style

Larry Mendte’s ankle bracelet came off yesterday. Mendte completed his six-month house arrest and is free to live out the rest of his two-and-a-half-year probation outside the confines of his Main Line home. The house arrest and probation constitute the sentence he received after pleading guilty to intentionally accessing the private e-mail account of his former co-anchor, Alycia Lane.  image

Mendte was convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which makes it unlawful to intentionally access a protected computer without authorization. In the last few years, employers have tried, with mixed results, to put this statute to work against employees who engage in cyber-sabotage.

In January 2009, for example, an employer filed suit under the CFAA against two former sales reps, alleging that the former employees had deleted information from their company laptops after resigning.[1] That case was dismissed, though, in a somewhat disappointing ruling from the District Court, which held that the intended purpose of the CFAA was limited to preventing and prosecuting computer hacking and did not extend to the misdeeds of former employees.

But in February 2009, another federal court declined to dismiss a claim under similar facts.[2] In that case, an employer sued former executives under the CFAA, alleging they’d e-mailed documents to their home computers when they were preparing to compete with the company.

So often, employers want to file a counter-claim in response to what they believe is a bogus suit filed for a former employee. The law rarely provides for this, though. For many employers and their legal counsel, the application of the CFAA to the wrongdoings of former employees is a developing area of the law with great potential.

[1] Lasco Foods, Inc. v. Hall & Shaw Sales, Marketing & Consulting, LLC, 600 F. Supp. 2d 1045 (E.D. Mo. 2009)

[2] Ervin & Ervin Smith Advertising v. Ervin, No. 8:08-459 (D. Neb. Feb. 3, 2009).

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