Average Joe SCOTUS: Van Buren v. United States

Scumbag cop Nathan Van Buren was “friends” with another scumbag, Andrew Albo. Albo liked the ladies. Especially the ones he paid to have sex with him. Van Buren decided to shake Albo down, and asked him for $15k to cover his son’s medical bills.

Here’s the rub, Van Buren’s son was perfectly healthy, and it was clearly just a shake down.

Albo, not the dullest knife in the drawer, recorded the conversation, and took it to the FBI who decided to set up a sting. They had Albo ask Van Buren to look up a woman he wanted to hire as a prostitute, to make sure she wasn’t a cop. Van Buren did so, and boom! Busted his ass.

So now he’s charged with wire fraud, using law enforcement databases for unlawful purposes. Van Buren’s argument is that he was authorized to use that database, and therefore it wasn’t fraud. So now SCOTUS has to decide whether using a database you’re authorized to use, but using it in a manner the job doesn’t provide for, constitutes wire fraud under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits anyone who “exceeds authorized access” on a computer, specifically it defines that as “to access a computer with authorization and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accessor is not entitled so to obtain or alter.”

Counsel for Van Buren launched the opening salvo by arguing:

The CFAA is an anti-hacking statute. It prohibits obtaining information from a computer without authorization.

And to ensure comprehensive coverage, the statute also prohibits “exceeding authorized access.” As Judge Kozinski put it, this ensures that the statute covers not just outside but also inside hackers. In this case, however, the government seeks to transform the supplemental prong of the CFAA into an entirely different prohibition.

In the government’s view, this prong covers obtaining any information via computer that the accessor is not entitled “under the circumstances” to obtain. It is no overstatement to say that this construction would brand most Americans criminals on a daily basis.

The scenarios are practically limitless, but a few examples will suffice.

Imagine a secretary whose employee handbook says that her e-mail or Zoom account may be used only for business purposes.

Or consider a person using a dating website where users may not include false information on their profile to obtain information about potential mates.

Or think of a law student who is issued a log — log-in credentials for Westlaw or Lexis for educational use only. If the government is right, then a computer user who disregards any of these stated use restrictions commits a federal crime.

He makes a pretty valid point. And it seems odd that there isn’t just a specific law to prevent government officials who have access to our private information, from obtaining that for any non-business related use, and sharing it, or something like that. Seems like they know it’s wrong, but just don’t have a proper law to charge him with.

Neil Gorsuch thinking likeme asked,

Neil Gorsuch

And then, on the reverse parade of horribles we’ve heard from the other side, I guess I’m struggling to imagine how — how long that parade would be given the abundance of criminal laws available. So, if this one didn’t cover that kind of conduct, but there were troublesome forms of it, like your client’s behavior in this case, misusing a police database, I assume there are ample state laws available that criminalize a lot of that conduct.

Am I mistaken?

Jeffrey L. Fisher


In fact, this case comes from Georgia, and Georgia itself has a statute about — about hacking or otherwise misusing computer information.

The government, as we point out in our — in our reply brief, the government gave a few hypotheticals in its brief, and almost every one of them is already addressed by some other provision of the — even the U.S. Code, let alone state law. And — and even — remember, my client himself has already lost his job and has other forms of punishment that have already been brought to bear.

In a 6:3 non-partisan decision, SCOTUS ruled for Van Buren. He’d have had to obtain info he was not authorized to have in order to have committed a crime. Sure, this was some personal and troubling bullshit, but it’s info he otherwise had access to. So while it’s kinda immoral, it isn’t illegal. If they don’t like it, they need to pass laws specifically to prevent it.

Hear oral arguments and read about the case here.


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