United States of America v. Alberto Valle
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
About two years ago Alberto Valle, later known as the “Cannibal Cop,” was convicted of being involved in a criminal conspiracy to kidnap and violating the CFAA by using his work access as a New York City Police Officer to further his conspiracy. After his jury conviction, Valle filed a motion for acquittal on both charges. The district court granted his motion on the kidnapping charge, finding that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to establish the kidnapping conspiracy, but denied the motion on the CFAA charge. The Second Circuit then reviewed the case and found in favor of Valle because the language of the CFAA was ambiguous.
“The CFAA imposes both criminal and civil liability for anyone who ‘intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access,’ and in doing so ‘obtains…information from any protected computer.’”18 U.S.C. §1030(a)(2)(C). The crux of the decision and the circuit split is based on the meaning of the phrase “exceeds authorized access.” The First, Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuit Courts have all held that the language in the CFAA is clear and has broader application- that “under the statute you’re not entitled to use your company access to obtain information for a purpose not permitted by your employer.” However, the Second Circuit in Valle joins the Fourth and Ninth Circuit in holding that the CFAA has a much narrower application- Valle’s activity does not violate the CFAA because Valle was authorized by his employer to access the information he accessed- it doesn’t matter that Valle’s purpose for seeking the information was outside the scope of his employer’s authority. Though the Second Circuit saw the merit in the view adopted by the First, Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits, the Second Circuit decided it must find in favor of Valle, the criminal defendant, because of the rule of lenity.
Read the full decision here. It looks probable that this issue will be analyzed by the Supreme Court due to the circuit split that has occurred. Stay tuned for more developments on the interpretation of the CFAA.
United States of America