Monday, November 27, 2006, 11/27/2006 02:48:00 PM

Cain and Abel Fight A Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Case Out

By Todd
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is found in Title 18 of the United States Code. 18 U.S.C. section 1030(a)(4) prohibits the "knowing[ ] ... access[ of] a protected computer without authorization," with intent to defraud, if "such conduct furthers the intended fraud and [the violator] obtains anything of value." In a case between Fiber Systems International, Inc. and some of its former employee/investors, Fiber Systems alleged the departing employee/investors copied a bunch of confidential information from Fiber Systems' database and walked off with it to start a competitive venture. Michael Roehrs was the CEO of Fiber Systems and his brother, Daniel Roehrs, was the principal defendant in the action. It got so nasty that Fiber Systems apparently filed a police report referring to the defendants as thieves so they countersued for defamation. The matter went to trial. The jury granted Fiber Systems $36,000 for the proven violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and $100,000 a piece in compensatories and $1 million a piece in punitives for the counter-claimants on their defamation claims. The trial judge non-suited Fiber Systems on the CFAA claim holding that no private right of action exists under 18 U.S.C. section 1030(a)(4). Fiber Systems appealed.

The Fifth Circuit agreed that the trial court got the analysis of the "private right of action" issue wrong. It reasoned that the trial court's interpretation of 18 U.S.C. section 1030(a)(4) "is at odds with the language of the statute, which plainly allows such an action to proceed. Section 1030(g) extends the ability to bring a civil action to any person suffering damage or loss under "this section," which refers to § 1030 as a whole, as subsection (g) does not proscribe any conduct itself. And although § 1030(g) refers to subsection (a)(5)(B), the statute does not limit civil suits to violations of § 1030(a)(5). Indeed, if Congress intended to limit civil actions in this manner, it could have simply provided that civil actions may only be brought for violations of subsection (a)(5)."

The appellate court reversed the trial court's non-suit on the CFAA damages and ordered that judgment be entered to the tune of $36,000 as found by the jury. The case can be cited as Fiber Systems International, Inc. v. Roehrs et al., 2006 WL 3378403 (5th Cir., November 22, 2006).
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