Feeds

Judge: Checking Facebook at work is not a crime

'Sometimes we use computers for ... play'

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Checking your personal email on a work computer is not a federal crime, a judge in San Francisco has ruled (PDF), despite the US government trying to argue otherwise.

Judging on the case of US v Nosal, maverick San Fran judge* Alex Kozinski concluded that doing non-work things on work facilities was not criminal, though he accepted that it could breach the terms of employment.

Kozinski booted out computer abuse charges against a IT worker, David Nosal, who filched company information from confidential databases and used it to help start his own business. Nosal was indicted on several accounts, which included theft of trade secrets and a breach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (1984). It was the Computer Abuse charges that were at issue in the appeal that came before Kozinski in the US Ninth Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The ruling yesterday clears Nosal of the Computer Fraud and Abuse charges and at the same time redefines the law on computer abuse. Kozinski said that extending the notion of what entails abuse in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – which was aimed at criminalising hacking – was dangerous as it could then be extended to faffing around on the internet while in the office:

The government’s construction of the statute would expand its scope far beyond computer hacking to criminalize any unauthorized use of information obtained from a computer. This would make criminals of large groups of people who would have little reason to suspect they are committing a federal crime.

At its most extreme, a ruling in favour of the government would mean that anyone using a work facility (such as a computer) for an non-work purpose (such as Facebook) could be committing a federal crime. The ruling said:

Minds have wandered since the beginning of time and the computer gives employees new ways to procrastinate, by gchatting with friends, playing games, shopping or watching sports highlights. Such activities are routinely prohibited by many computer-use policies, although employees are seldom disciplined for occasional use of work computers for personal purposes. Nevertheless, under the broad interpretation of the CFAA, such minor dalliances would become federal crimes. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be prosecuted for watching Reason.TV on your work computer, you could be.

Kozinski's judgment wades into wide-ranging questions of whether downloading an app on a work phone or giving misleading information on a dating site could be construed as computer abuse. He concludes that criminalising a broad range of day-to-day activities would be undesirable and could lead to discriminatory enforcement. ®

Bootnote

*Judge Kozinski has appeared on The Register's radar before, and consulting our archives, we see that he, of all the federal judges, might be expected to understand the nature of play on the computer. Alex Kozinski was caught hosting and sharing a substantial quantity of porn on his personal website back in 2008. He recused himself from the case he had been hearing and was cleared of any judicial wrongdoing by the Judicial Council of the Third Circuit (PDF). ®

Judge Kozinski's Opinion on Nosal v US Gov

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Microsoft's MCSE and MCSD will become HARDER to win
Redmond decides it won't replace Masters certifications, so lesser certs get more rigour
'Oh my god – Mark Zuckerberg wants to meet me'
'The Swiss have got no great interest in working with Apple'
Dammit, Foxconn: Where's our 1 MILLION-strong robot ARMY?
'Foxbots' just aren't good enough to take up the slack
Devs: Fancy a job teaching Siri to speak the Queen's English?
Spik propa lyk dis blud innit, ya get me?
Bankers bid to use offshore temp techies
WikiLeaks publishes Financial Services Annex to 50-nation Trade in Services Agreement
Hey! Where! are! the! white! women! at!? It's! Yahoo!
In non-tech jobs, that is – still mostly white men running Marissa Mayer's web biz
Non-techies: The cute things they say
'OK, smartass, the firewall is blocking the proxy server.'
Join me, Reg readers, and help me UPGRADE our CHILDREN
Think of the children? I just did, says Dom Connor
Dream job ad appears: Data wrangler for Square Kilometre Array
Curtin University seeks extreme sysadmin for Murchison 'scope
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.