The Supreme Court will decide whether it is a federal crime for someone with permission to access information on a computer to access that information for an improper purpose, reports Scotusblog. The case involves Nathan Van Buren, a Georgia police officer who became the subject of an FBI sting operation after he asked a man named Andrew Albo, who had previously accused prostitutes of stealing money from him, for a loan. At the FBI’s instruction, Albo asked Van Buren to run a computer search for a license plate number supposedly belonging to an exotic dancer. According to a story concocted by the FBI, Albo liked the dancer and wanted to make sure she wasn’t an undercover police officer. Van Buren agreed to do the search for Albo, who paid him $6,000.
Van Buren was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which makes it a federal crime to access a computer without authorization or to exceed the user’s authorized access and obtain information. Van Buren was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld Van Buren’s conviction, rejecting his argument that he could not have violated the federal law because he had permission to access the databases. Van Buren argued that if the lower court is correct, any “trivial breach” of the conditions imposed by employers or a website’s terms of service, “from checking sports scores at work to inflating one’s height on a dating website,” would be a federal crime.