Committee for Justice Files Amicus Brief in Nathan Van Buren v. United States
Media Contact: Curt Levey
(202) 510-0128; firstname.lastname@example.org
Committee for Justice president Curt Levey issued the following statement:
Washington, D.C. -- The Committee for Justice decided to get involved in this case because several of the issues at stake – including overcriminalization, fair notice, the rule of lenity, and the federal-state balance in criminal law – are at the heart of CFJ's mission of promoting the rule of law and preserving the Constitution's limits on federal power and its protection of individual liberty.
While the language of the CFAA is arguably ambiguous, the government's reading, which would make it a crime merely to access a computer or the internet for an unauthorized purpose, cannot be correct. As our brief points out, its reading would "weaponiz[e] every set of computer use guidelines and every website’s terms of service, it would make a criminal of nearly everyone—public officials and ordinary citizens alike."
Along with common sense, the "rule of lenity," which requires that ambiguity in a criminal statute be construed in favor of the defendant, argues against an interpretation of the CFAA that would make it a crime to check sports scores at work if your employer's computer policy prohibits personal use.
The government tries to bolster its interpretation by pointing to legislative history, which is unpersuasive on its own terms. Moreover, our brief argues that relying on legislative history to construe ambiguity in a criminal statute against the defendant would violate the rule of lenity.
The government's reading of the CFAA is also at odds with the Supreme Court's recent jurisprudence cutting back on overbroad interpretations of federal criminal statutes – for example, the Court's decision this year in the New Jersey bridge case (Kelly v. United States).
As our brief notes, the government's expansive interpretation of the CFAA "would eviscerat[e] this Court’s overcriminalization cases … invit[ing] all of the dangers those cases sought to avert. It would upset the federal-state balance in criminal law; invite selective targeting by opportunistic or politically-motived prosecutors; criminalize a vast swath of ordinary behavior; and deprive the public of adequate notice as to what the law requires."