Brief filed: 07/08/2020
Van Buren v. United States
United States Supreme Court; Case No. 19-783
Decision below 940 F.3d 1192 (11th Cir. Oct. 10, 2019)
The Eleventh Circuit reaffirmed that a person violates the CFAA by using a computer to access information for an improper purpose, even if otherwise authorized to access that information. This reading goes beyond the CFAA’s text, fails to account for Congress’ intent in enacting it, and flouts the rule of lenity, which requires that ambiguous criminal statutes be construed in a defendant’s favor. The decision below also interpreted the CFAA in a manner that raises due process concerns, both because it is an unconstitutionally vague reading of the statute and because it invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, and thus the doctrine of constitutional avoidance requires that Petitioner’s reading of the statute prevail. Further, an expansive reading of the CFAA would contribute to the trend of overcriminalization and give courts and prosecutors a backdoor method of updating criminal laws in response to changed technological—or potentially cultural, economic, or political—realities, something our constitutional structure reserves for Congress.
Clifford W. Berlow and Grace C. Signorelli-Cassady, Jenner & Block LLP, Chicago, IL; Jeffrey T. Green, NACDL, Washington, DC.