Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a decision in Van Buren v. United States, No. 19-783, ruling that a police officer did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) when he obtained information from a law enforcement database that he was permitted to access, but did so for an improper purpose.  In so ruling, the Court adopted a relatively narrow reading of the CFAA, and partially resolved a years-long debate concerning the scope of liability under the CFAA.

The CFAA prohibits, inter alia, “intentionally access[ing] a computer without authorization or exceed[ing] authorized access, and thereby obtain[ing] information from any protected computer.”  18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2).  What it means to “exceed authorized access” has been the subject of disagreement among lower courts:  Some have concluded that this term refers to accessing areas of a computer that the user is not permitted to access under any circumstances—e.g., a student accessing her university’s database of grades that is restricted to only administrator use.  Others have concluded that this term also encompasses individuals who are permitted to access an area of a computer for certain purposes, but they do so for an improper purpose—e.g., an administrator accessing the university’s database of grades that she is generally permitted to use, but she does so for the improper purpose of blackmailing a student.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Adopts Narrow Reading of the CFAA in Van Buren v. United States

Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Facebook v. Duguid, adopting a narrow interpretation of a key definitional term in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and resolving the circuit split we previously described here and here.

In effect, the Supreme Court’s opinion means that to qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) under the TCPA, a device must use a random or sequential number generator; a device that calls a prescribed set of telephone numbers without using such a number generator would stand outside that definition and thus not be regulated by the TCPA.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Narrows Meaning of TCPA Autodialer Definition

On Wednesday, January 13, the Supreme Court heard arguments in AMG Capital Management LLC v. Federal Trade Commission.  This case raises the question whether the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been properly using Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, the provision authorizing requests for preliminary and permanent injunctions where the FTC believes the defendant

Last week, an Ohio district court found that violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) occurring between 2015 and July 2020 cannot be enforced because the law was unconstitutional at the time.  The case is captioned Lindenbaum v. Realgy, LLC, No. 19-CV-02862 (N.D. Ohio), and the opinion builds on an earlier decision from a Louisiana district court that reached a similar conclusion in Creasy v. Charter Communications Inc., No. 20-CV-01199 (E.D. La.).
Continue Reading Courts Find TCPA Unenforceable for Acts Prior to July 2020

Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, which addressed the constitutionality of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).  Although the Court splintered in its reasoning—producing four separate opinions—the justices nevertheless coalesced around two core conclusions: (1) the TCPA’s exception for government debt collection calls is unconstitutional, and (2) the exception can be severed from the rest of the TCPA.  Six justices determined that the TCPA’s government-debt exception violates the First Amendment, and seven justices concluded that the exception is severable from the rest of the statute.  The end result is that the government-debt exception is invalid but the rest of the TCPA—including its general prohibition on automated calls and text messages to mobile numbers—remains intact.  The narrow scope of this ruling suggests that it may have limited practical effect for most parties.

As we previously explained, the TCPA, as originally enacted in 1991, restricts the use of an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) to transmit calls or texts to mobile numbers without the recipient’s prior express consent (the ATDS prohibition).  In 2015, Congress amended the TCPA to exempt from the ATDS prohibition calls made to collect a debt owed to the United States.  The question before the Supreme Court was whether the government-debt exception violates the First Amendment and, if so, whether the proper remedy is to sever the exception—leaving intact the rest of the TCPA—or invalidate the entire ATDS prohibition.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Invalidates TCPA Government-Debt Exception

On June 16, 2020, the First Circuit released its opinion in United States v. Moore-Bush.  The issue presented was whether the Government’s warrantless use of a pole camera to continuously record for eight months the front of Defendants’ home, as well as their and their visitors’ comings and goings, infringed on the Defendants’ reasonable expectation of privacy in and around their home and thereby violated the Fourth Amendment.  The appeal followed the district court’s decision in June 2019 in favor of Defendants’ motions to exclude evidence obtained via the pole camera.  The Government, without obtaining a warrant, had installed a pole camera on a utility pole across the street from Defendants’ residence.  The pole camera (1) took continuous video recording for approximately eight months, (2) focused on the driveway and the front of the house, (3) had the ability to zoom in so close that it can read license plate numbers, and (4) created a digitally searchable log.

In their motions to exclude, the Defendants, relying on Katz v. United States, argued they had both a subjective and objective reasonable expectation of privacy in the movements into and around their home, and that the warrantless use of the pole camera therefore constituted an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.  The Government relied on an earlier First Circuit case, United States v. Bucci, which held that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in a person’s movements outside of and around their home—“An individual does not have an expectation of privacy in items or places he exposes to the public.”  Thus, Bucci held that use of a pole camera for eight months did not constitute a search.
Continue Reading United States v. Moore-Bush: No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy Around the Home

On May 5, 2020, the Seventh Circuit held that violations of the section 15(b) disclosure and informed consent provisions of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, 740 ILCS 14/1 et seq. (“BIPA”) constitute “an invasion of personal rights that is both concrete and particularized” for the purposes of establishing Article III standing to sue in federal courts.  However, the Seventh Circuit also held that the alleged harms associated with violations of section 15(a) of BIPA were insufficient to establish Article III standing.  Section 15(a) mandates public disclosure of a retention schedule and guidelines for permanent destruction of collected biometric information.

Covington has previously discussed developments in BIPA litigation, which has proliferated in recent years with the advancement of relevant technologies.  The increase in BIPA litigation has been accompanied by a rise in disputes over the nature of the harm required to sustain an action, both in state and federal courts.  Although this issue was seemingly resolved at the state-level by the Illinois Supreme Court’s 2019 Rosenbach decision, federal courts have continued to grapple with the issue for the purposes of Article III standing.
Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Rules on Article III Standing Issues in Illinois BIPA Lawsuit, Allowing Case to Proceed in Federal Court

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument (by telephone) in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, a case that centers on the constitutionality of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and, more specifically, the prohibition on transmitting automated calls or texts to mobile telephone numbers without prior express consent.  Given the litigious environment surrounding the TCPA, the case has important potential implications for businesses that communicate with consumers in this manner.  A transcript of the argument is available here, and a recording is available here.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Hears Argument Regarding Constitutionality of TCPA

[This article also was published in Law360.]

In March 2017, Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., introduced a draft bill titled the Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act. The bill would amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to enable victims of cyberattacks to employ “limited defensive measures that exceed the boundaries of one’s network in order to monitor, identify and stop attackers.”[1] More specifically, the ACDC would empower individuals and companies to leave their own network to ascertain the perpetrator (i.e., establish attribution), disrupt cyberattacks without damaging others’ computers, retrieve and destroy stolen files, monitor the behavior of an attacker, and utilize beaconing technology.[2] An updated, bipartisan version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Graves and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in October 2017.[3]


Continue Reading Litigation Options For Post-Cyberattack ‘Active Defense’

A class-action lawsuit filed last month alleges that Wal-Mart’s video recording technology at its self-service checkout kiosks collects “personal identification information” in violation of the California Song-Beverly Act Credit Card Act of 1971 (“Song-Beverly Act”).  The Song-Beverly Act, like analogous statutes in several other states, generally prohibits businesses from recording customers’ “personal identification information” as