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An Employee s Use Of Work Computers Must Be Authorized

Understanding Employees’ Computer Use Issues

The line between work and personal business can often be blurred. Employees send personal emails from their work laptops at train stations. They text on work-issued cellphones from restaurants. They download work documents from home computers. Wait … is downloading work documents from home legal? Yes, if it is “authorized.”

Employers have recently relied on a law Congress enacted in 1984 called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to punish employees who access and download confidential information without the company’s authorization. This law was originally passed to prevent and punish the practice of “hacking” into computers, but the law was amended several times in the 1990s and 2000s in ways that broaden its application.

For instance, if an employer learns that a former employee downloaded files just before they quit, it may prompt the employer to sue the former employee and then search all of his/her personal and home computers to make sure they are not keeping or sending “unauthorized” information. Courts will often allow this type of forensic computer search under these circumstances.

However, there are cases in New Hampshire and throughout the country in which employees accused of CFAA violations have successfully defended themselves. Attorney Phil Pettis has successfully handled Computer Fraud and Abuse Act cases and countless other state and federal employment cases. For further information about employment law issues, contact: