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Int'l Airport Ctrs., L.L.C. v. Citrin

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

October 24, 2005, Argued ; March 8, 2006, Decided

No. 05-1522

Opinion

 [*418]  POSNER, Circuit Judge. This appeal from the dismissal of the plaintiffs' suit for failure to state a claim  [*419]  mainly requires us to interpret the word "transmission" in a key provision of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030. The complaint alleges the following facts, which for purposes of deciding the appeal we must take as true. The defendant, Citrin, was employed by the plaintiffs--affiliated companies engaged in the real estate business that we'll treat as one to simplify the opinion, and call "IAC"--to identify properties that IAC might want to acquire, and to assist in any ensuing acquisition. IAC lent Citrin a laptop to use to record data that he collected in the course of his work in [**2]  identifying potential acquisition targets.

Citrin decided to quit IAC and go into business for himself, in breach of his employment contract. Before returning the laptop to IAC, he deleted all the data in it--not only the data that he had collected but also data that would have revealed to IAC improper conduct in which he had engaged before he decided to quit. Ordinarily, pressing the "delete" key on a computer (or using a mouse click to delete) does not affect the data sought to be deleted; it merely removes the index entry and pointers to the data file so that the file appears no longer to be there, and the space allocated to that file is made available for future write commands. Such "deleted" files are easily recoverable. But Citrin loaded into the laptop a secure-erasure program, designed, by writing over the deleted files, to prevent their recovery. Thomas J. Fitzgerald, "Deleted But Not Gone: Programs Help Protect Confidential Data by Making Disks and Drives Unreadable," New York Times (national ed.), Nov. 3, 2005, p. C9. IAC had no copies of the files that Citrin erased.

] The provision of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act on which IAC relies provides that whoever "knowingly [**3]  causes the transmission of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage without authorization, to a protected computer [a defined term that includes the laptop that Citrin used]," violates the Act. 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(A)(i). Citrin argues that merely erasing a file from a computer is not a "transmission." Pressing a delete or erase key in fact transmits a command, but it might be stretching the statute too far (especially since it provides criminal as well as civil sanctions for its violation) to consider any typing on a computer keyboard to be a form of "transmission" just because it transmits a command to the computer.

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440 F.3d 418 *; 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 5772 **; 24 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 129

INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT CENTERS, L.L.C., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. JACOB CITRIN, Defendant-Appellee.

Subsequent History: Subsequent appeal at Int'l Airport Ctrs., L.L.C. v. Citrin, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 18573 (7th Cir. Ill., May 31, 2006)

Prior History:  [**1]  Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 03 C 8104. Wayne R. Andersen, Judge.

Int'l Airports Ctrs., L.L.C. v. Citrin, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3905 (N.D. Ill., Jan. 31, 2005)

CORE TERMS

disk, transmission, deleted, laptop, authorization, confidential, files, terminated, transmits, destroy, erased

Criminal Law & Procedure, Fraud, Computer Fraud, Elements, General Overview, Business & Corporate Law, Duties & Liabilities, Care, Good Faith & Reasonable Skill, Duty of Good Faith