Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

AuthorPeter J.G. Toren
PositionPeter J.G. Toren is a partner with Weisbrod Matteis & Copley in Washington, D.C., where he helps individuals and companies protect their IP rights. He specializes in patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret cases and has tried dozens of cases in his career. Prior to joining Weisbrod, he was a federal prosecutor with the Computer Crime and...
Published in Landslide® magazine, Volume 9, Number 5 , a publication of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA-IPL), ©2017 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This
information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
Fraud and
Abuse Act
By Peter J.G. Toren
Ronald Reagan was in his second term as president of the
United States. Out of Africa won the Academy Award
for best picture. The space shuttle Challenger exploded
just after launch from Cape Canaveral, killing all eight on
board. The New York Mets beat the Red Sox in the World
Series in seven games, extending to 86 years the last time the
Red Sox had won the World Series. President Obama was
in his second year of law school. And Congress enacted the
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) as an amendment to
an earlier computer fraud law1—before commercial e-mail
was available for the general public and prior to the advent
of text messaging and downloadable applications. Much has
changed in the last 30 years, but the CFAA remains the pri-
mary statute used to prosecute hackers.
The government has used the CFAA to prosecute individu-
als for classic hacking offenses, such as defendants who hack
into computers of government ofcials, universities, nancial
institutions, or commercial establishments in order to steal
condential government information, trade secrets, and credit
card numbers. The government has also used the CFAA to
obtain convictions of foreign nationals who conspired to
gain unauthorized access to protected computer networks in
the United States in order to obtain sensitive information for
the purpose of exporting that information to China, and to
indict ve members of the Chinese military for hacking into
U.S. companies and a labor union. However, the broad reach
of the CFAA has also permitted the government, with vary-
ing degrees of success, to go after defendants who don’t t
the classic denition of a hacker. For example, the govern-
ment prosecuted a defendant under the CFAA for using a
law enforcement database to acquire intimate details about
women that the defendant then shared on websites along
with his plans to butcher, rape, torture, and eat these women.2
It also obtained a conviction, which was subsequently

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