Police Sargent Van Buren used his patrol car’s computer to access a vehicle license database in Georgia to find an owner’s information related to a particular license plate. He took this action in exchange for a $ 5,000 bribe. Unfortunately, Van Buren became involved in an FBI stabbing operation that resulted in his being charged with a federal crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). After a jury trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison. This seemingly routine pattern of fact led the Supreme Court to review the scope of the CFAA in an attempt to resolve conflicting interpretations among federal counties. Van Buren versus United States, 141 S.Ct. 1648 (2021). It was disputed whether Van Buren had exceeded his “authorized access” in the sense of the CFAA. In a 6-3 split between the judges, Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s opinion concluded that the CFAA did not cover misuse of computerized information when the accused had otherwise authorized access to the data in question.
At the dawn of the computer age in the early 1980s, misuse of computers and information stored on computers exposed a loophole in federal criminal law. Unauthorized access to a computer system for the purpose of stealing information or other misuse, ie “hacking“, was not clearly covered by any existing law. A first broad attempt was made under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. Press reports at the time show that some of the Congressional motivation for this original law came from members of Congress who saw the 1983 film War games representing juvenile computer hacking. This limited first attempt was supplemented by the CFAA, including the provisions of 18 USC §1030, titled Fraud and related activities with computers.