Controversial Law Means Checking Facebook At Work Could Be A Federal Crime


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Updating your status or adding to your shopping cart on Amazon at work isn’t just a violation of company policy.It might also be against federal law, according to a new paper by two Boston College professors.

“For the past decade or so, courts have disagreed over the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” Stephanie Green and Christine Neylon O’Brien wrote in their paper. “Some courts have found that an employee who violates a workplace policy, breaches a contract, or breaches a duty of loyalty to his employer may be both civilly and criminally liable under this Act.”

The law was passed in 1986 as a way to fight hackers targeting government computers. The law came on the heels of paranoia spurred in part by the Matthew Broderick movie “War Games.

However, the act makes it illegal to knowingly exceed any authorised use of a computer, meaning if your company doesn’t explicitly allow you to use Facebook, you’ve essentially broken the law.

The Ninth Circuit court of Appeals recently ruled in United States v. Nosal that it wasn’t a violation of the act to circumvent corporate computer access policies.

However, that decision contradicted rulings issued by various other federal appeals courts, meaning the uncertainty still stands.

So, according to the paper that was first brought to our attention yesterday by Workplace Prof Blog, while online shopping at work might not seem like a big deal, it could actually be considered a criminal activity until the courts reach a unanimous conclusion about the ambiguous act.

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