United States: 9th Circuit Takes Narrow View Of The Computer Fraud And Abuse Act In LinkedIn Data Scraping Case

Last Updated: October 9 2019
Article by Dawn Mertineit and Dallin R. Wilson

In an a recently published opinion, the Ninth Circuit answered the question whether "LinkedIn, the professional networking website, [may] prevent a competitor, hiQ, from collecting and using information that LinkedIn users have shared on their public profiles, available for viewing by anyone with a web browser?" In affirming the trial court's injunction enjoining LinkedIn from blocking hiQ's access to its users' public profiles, the Ninth Circuit held, among other things, that hiQ's scraping did not amount to accessing LinkedIn's users' data "without authorization," in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"), because the data hiQ was accessing was publicly available and therefore did not fall within the scope of the CFAA.

HiQ is a data analytics company that creates algorithms from data "scraped" from LinkedIn users' public profiles. It then packages that information into products and services that identify for employers both those employees at the greatest risk of being recruited away, and skill gaps in employers' workforces so that they can offer training in those areas. LinkedIn recently started marketing its own similar services using its users' data, including tools which analyze what skills employers need to grow and where they can find employees with those skills. When LinkedIn discovered that hiQ was scraping LinkedIn's users' data to develop competing products, LinkedIn sent a cease and desist letter and implemented measures to block hiQ from accessing LinkedIn's site. HiQ responded by filing suit and seeking injunctive relief. The trial court granted hiQ's motion, enjoining LinkedIn from putting in place any legal or technical measures with the effect of blocking hiQ's access to LinkedIn's users' public profiles.

On appeal, after determining that hiQ had adequately established the threat of irreparable harm and that the balance of the equities weighed in hiQ's favor, the Ninth Circuit addressed whether hiQ's claims were preempted by the CFAA, and if they were, whether hiQ had violated the CFAA when it continued to scrape and use LinkedIn's data after it received LinkedIn's cease and desist letter.

The CFAA provides that "[w]hoever . . . intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer . . . shall be punished" by fine or imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C). The term "protected computer" refers to any computer "used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication," which the Ninth Circuit described as "effectively any computer connected to the Internet . . . including servers, computers that manage network resources and provide data to other computers."

Although it determined that hiQ had accessed "protected computers" when it scraped LinkedIn's data, the Ninth Circuit held that hiQ had not accessed a computer "without authorization." Relying on its prior opinions, the Ninth Circuit stated that the phrase "without authorization" is a non-technical term that means accessing a protected computer without permission. The Court also relied on the legislative history of the CFAA, which was originally passed in 1984 as an anti-intrusion statute, and the Court therefore determined that "unauthorized access" was analogous to "breaking and entering." It is worth noting that a circuit split remains over this issue, with the Ninth Circuit rejecting the First and Eleventh Circuits' interpretation that the CFAA broadly covers violations of corporate computer use restrictions and policies governing authorized uses of databases, not just "breaking and entering" type intrusions.

With that background in mind, the Court concluded that hiQ had raised a serious question "as to whether the reference to access 'without authorization' limits the scope of the statutory coverage [of the CFAA] to computer information for which authorization or access permission, such as password authentication, is generally required." In other words, "the CFAA contemplates the existence of three kinds of computer information: (1) information for which access is open to the general public and permission is not required, (2) information for which authorization is required and has been given, and (3) information for which authorization is required but has not been given (or, in the case of the prohibition on exceeding authorized access, has not been given for the part of the system accessed)." The Court therefore concluded that "[p]ublic LinkedIn profiles, available to anyone with an Internet connection, fall into the first category. With regard to such information, the 'breaking and entering' analogue invoked so frequently during congressional consideration has no application, and the concept of 'without authorization' is inapt."

The Ninth Circuit's opinion is consistent with its previous rulings involving the CFAA, wherein the Court has favored a narrow interpretation of the statute, particularly given that the CFAA provides for criminal, as well as civil penalties. In recent years, employers have increasingly asserted CFAA claims against employees who have allegedly misappropriated the employers' trade secrets by downloading confidential information from company computers "without authorization" or by "exceeding their authorized access." But, as demonstrated by this recent ruling, the Ninth Circuit has been reluctant to turn "a criminal hacking statute" into a "sweeping internet-policing mandate" to be used against employees, and employers—particularly those within the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction—should be mindful of the Court's narrow interpretation of the statute before asserting such claims.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin Law Corporation
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin Law Corporation
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions