Supreme Court: Employees Allowed to Use Workplace Computer Information to Blow Whistle on Fraud

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June in the case of Buren v. United States. The 6-3 decision added some limitations to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.

Now, federal prosecutors are not allowed to use the CFAA to charge employees who used workplace computer information to which they had authorized access to blow the whistle on misconduct and fraud.

Case background

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the majority ruling that the “government’s interpretation of the statute would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity. If the ‘exceeds authorized access’ clause criminalizes every violation of a computer-use policy, then millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens are criminals.”

Whistleblower advocates had been pushing for such a decision, saying for years that the broad interpretations of the CFAA posed a threat to whistleblowers who were accessing data on workplace computers completely legally.

Whistleblowers frequently use work computers to gather information about fraud and other forms of misconduct before passing that information along to law enforcement officials. Those information disclosures may not be authorized by the company in question, but these advocates say whistleblowers should still have protection in these circumstances for doing the right thing.

The plaintiff in the suit was the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), which filed an amicus curiae brief with the court to call for limitations to the scope of the CFAA. Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed with the NWC’s belief that the broader application of the legislation could result in whistleblower retaliation.

For more information about the steps you should take if you become aware of any form of fraud or corporate malfeasance within your workplace, contact an experienced whistleblower attorney at Kardell Law Group.