In a long-awaited decision, the Supreme Court resolved a circuit split about whether an individual with access to a computer system violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) by accessing information for an improper purpose. By a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Barrett, the Court held that an individual does not “exceed authorized access” within the meaning of the CFAA by misusing access to obtain information that is otherwise available to that person. While the case heard by the high court was a criminal case involving a former law enforcement officer’s criminal conviction, the decision nonetheless has broad ramifications for trade secrets and restrictive covenant litigation, as CFAA claims were often brought against employees who misused access rights to misappropriate information. The CFAA is a criminal statute that also provides a civil remedy, and CFAA claims were commonly raised to acquire federal subject matter jurisdiction, especially prior to the enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act in 2016, which provided an independent private cause of action in federal court for trade secret misappropriation.
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