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Section 2(d) of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1030(a)(5)(A), punishes anyone who intentionally accesses without authorization a category of computers known as "federal interest computers" and damages or prevents authorized use of information in such computers, causing loss of $1,000 or more.
Robert Morris was convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1030(a)(5)(A), for releasing a worm which caused computers at various educational and military sites to cease functioning. He appealed his conviction and argued the government had to prove not only that he intended the unauthorized access of a federal interest computer, but that he also intended to prevent others from using it.
Must the government prove not only that Morris intended to access a federal interest computer, but also that Morris intended to prevent authorized use of the computer's information and thereby cause loss?
The court held that section 1030(a)(5)(A) does not require the government to demonstrate that Morris intentionally prevented authorized use and thereby caused loss. The court also found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Morris acted "without authorization" within the meaning of section 1030(a)(5)(A). The court found that the mental state requirement of the statute was enacted to proscribe intentional acts of unauthorized access. In comparing the statute to its predecessor, the court concluded the "intentionally" standard only applied to the access and not to the damages phrase of the statute. Morris argued his conduct constituted at most "exceeding authorized access" rather than "unauthorized access," because he was authorized to communicate with other computers and to send electronic mail. The court found the evidence was sufficient for the jury to determine Morris’ action fell within the area of unauthorized use. It also found that the worm was designed to invade computers at which he had no authority, express or implied, and the decision was affirmed.