11 Apr 2012

Western Americans Can’t Be Sued for Playing at Work Anymore

A U.S. appeals court rejected the government's broad interpretation of a law that could have brought employees to court for playing Farmville at the office.

In trying a man for theft of trade secrets, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco warned that misinterpretation of the 1984 federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could bring millions of Americans to prison for harmless Web surfing at work.

The act outlaws computer use “that exceeds authorized access.” It was initially designed to prosecute hackers, but the judge said it was so vague it could be used to prosecute playing computer games at work.

“Minds have wandered since the beginning of time and the computer gives employees new ways to procrastinate, by chatting with friends, playing games, shopping, or watching sports highlights,” said Chief Judge Alex Kozinski in the lead opinion. “Under the broad interpretation of the CFAA, such minor dalliances would become federal crimes.”

Companies wanting to rid themselves of troublesome employees without following proper procedures could threaten to report them to the FBI unless they quit, said the judge.

The law rejection came in the case of David Nosal, a former executive at a recruiting agency. He was accused of violating the act by persuading former colleagues to send him confidential client data to start a competing business.

Unless the Supreme Court decides to try the issue, only people in the Western US can continue playing games online or social networking at the office. The rest of Americans can be still charged by the feds under the law.