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Recently, Intel Corp. sued in a California court to enjoin a former disgruntled employee from disseminating mass e-mails to his former co-workers at the company. On several occasions this individual had sent over 29,000 e-mails to the employees criticizing employment conditions at Intel. The company argued in court that these e-mails were clogging its computer systems and causing loss of productivity. Intel was successful and the court issued a permanent injunction restraining the person from sending further unsolicited e-mails through the company’s computer system. Companies here in Connecticut should be aware of the fact that, beyond injunctive relief, there are specific civil and criminal procedures available to deal with such conduct under both federal and state laws. Courts have been applying a broad interpretation of these laws when suits have been brought, and it follows that more employers will elect to bring more of these cases in the future. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) was enacted by Congress in 1984, and originally it was intended to protect data maintained in government and financial industry computers. As the result of legislative amendments in 1996, the provisions of this federal law now can be applied in a civil or criminal forum to most cases where someone without authorization accesses a computer and causes damage or appropriates valuable data or information. The typical instance might be where someone chooses to retaliate against his or her employer after having been discharged for cause. It can also be used where an employee is recruited to leave employment and work for a competitor. Before leaving, this person might copy or remove trade secrets, customer data and other competitive information. INTERNET BRINGS INTERSTATE JURISDICTION In addition to a violation under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act or a business tort action, the CFAA can be the basis of a lawsuit by a business against its former employee, as well as the new employer. Jurisdiction under CFAA applies to any computer “which is used in interstate or foreign commerce or communication.” With Internet access now virtually a ubiquitous feature of most computer systems in the workplace, interstate jurisdiction under this law is almost a certainty. Recently, in U.S. v. Aleksey Ivanovthe U.S. District Court in Connecticut ruled that CFAA could be applied to offenses committed by a person who was physically located in Russia where the computers were located in Vernon, Conn. The requisite damage under CFAA is defined as “any impairment to the integrity or availability of data, a program, a system, or information that causes loss aggregating at least $5,000 in value during any one-year period.” The calculation of damages can be based not only on the resulting impairment to the computer hardware or database, but also it can include the cost of the computer owner’s time and resources to restore or secure the system following unauthorized intrusion by a hacker. There is no minimum threshold for damages in state law as exists under the CFAA REMEDIES In Connecticut, there are also state laws that provide for civil remedies and criminal prosecution as the result of computer-related offenses. A violation can arise from any one of the following activities by an employee or former worker: unauthorized access to or use of a computer system; theft of computer services, interruption of computer services; misuse of computer information; destruction of computer equipment; and unlawful sale or distribution of software designed to facilitate falsification of electronic mail transmission or routing information. On the criminal side, these offenses constitute a felony punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. One provision specifies that in lieu of imposing a fine the court may sentence the defendant to pay double the amount of the defendant’s gain from the commission of a computer crime. The state statutes furthermore allow a company to bring a civil lawsuit for injunctive relief and damages, which include attorneys’ fees and costs and the loss of profits caused by the computer fraud and abuse. A business that has been victimized as the result of a computer crime often needs prompt relief. As an example, the impact of the loss or theft of trade secrets and proprietary information is immediate, and it can compound on almost a daily basis. An important point to this discussion of CFAA and Connecticut’s statutes governing computer-related offenses is that the added threat of criminal prosecution could be effectively used by an employer to obtain the return of its property more quickly than the company might be achieve through civil injunction proceedings. Peter A. Janus is the Editor ofConnecticut Labor & Employment Law , published by theConnecticut Law Tribune , and he is a principal in the law firm of Siegel, O’Connor, Schiff & Zangari in Hartford.

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