Appellate Judges Revive CFAA Suit

March 21, 2006 ( - A federal appellate court has overturned a lower court ruling dismissing an employer's suit against a former employee over alleged violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

The 7 th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that International Airport Centers (IAC) can proceed with its litigation against Jacob Citrin over charges that, after Citrin left the company, he installed and operated a special program to delete company data from his employer-owned computer.

US District Judge Wayne Anderson of the US District Court for the Northern  District of Illinois had ruled that Citrin’s act of deleting data and loading and operating the secure erasure program on IAC’s laptop legally did not represent a “transmission” under the CFAA.  A CFAA provision makes it illegal to “knowingly cause the transmission of a program” to intentionally cause damage to the computer or its data with a violation occurring if a person engages in such conduct without proper authorization to do so.

According to court documents, Citrin’s primary IAC job was to identify real estate that the IAC might want to acquire, and then assist with the acquisition.  The IAC provided Citrin with a laptop computer to record data that he collected in the course of his work.

Before turning in his laptop after leaving the company, however, Citrin was accused of loading onto the computer a secure erasure program that would prevent the recovery of any data he deleted.  He also deleted all of the company data on the computer, as well as other data that would have shown whether he engaged in improper conduct while working for IAC.

After getting the laptop back and learning of Citrin’s apparent data destruction, the IAC sued under the CFAA.   Anderson ruled against the company, and IAC appealed.

In the 7 th Circuit case, the IAC argued that the CFAA’s requirement that there be a transmission was met simply by virtue of Citrin’s loading the secure erasure program onto the computer.  While it was unclear whether this was from a diskette, CD-ROM or the Internet, the 7th Circuit concluded it did not matter.

The appeals court concluded that IAC’s case against Citrin under the CFAA should be reinstated, and sent it back to the district court for more hearings.

The appellate decision in International Airport Centers LLC v. Citrin, 7th Cir., No. 05-1522 (March 8, 2006) is  here .