Justice Dept. won't appeal computer fraud dismissal

Appellate court had ruled in April that prosecutors were too broadly interpreting a decades-old anti-hacking law to prosecute a man charged with misappropriating trade secrets.

The U.S. Justice Department has decided not to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appellate court ruling in a criminal case that found a decades-old anti-hacking law was being applied too broadly.

The decision means the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' rejection of the case against David Nosal, who was accused of illegally misappropriating trade secrets from his employer, will stand. In a 9-2 ruling, the court found in April that the 1984 federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was being interpreted too broadly and warned that millions of Americans could be subjected to prosecution for harmless Web surfing at work under the prosecutors' reading of the law.

The case centers on Nosal, a former executive at recruiting agency Korn/Ferry International who was accused of violating the act by persuading some of his co-workers to send him confidential client information to help him start a competing business. Nosal was also indicted for theft of trade secrets, mail fraud, and conspiracy.

"The government's construction of the statute would expand its scope far beyond computer hacking to criminalize any unauthorized use of information obtained from a computer," according to Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote the lead opinion. "This would make criminals of large groups of people who would have little reason to suspect they are committing a federal crime."

The ruling was suspended until today to give the Justice Department time to consider a petition to the Supreme Court to review the decision. In a motion, the U.S. Attorney's office said that the "Solicitor General will not file a petition for a writ of certiorari" in the case, without elaborating.

CNET has contacted the office of U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for comment and will update this report when we learn more.

 

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