🦹 The Supreme Court will hear a case that could “perhaps (make) a criminal of us all”

Imagine you’re on your work computer, and you decide to check Facebook. Or make a Zoom call to your friends. Or read this fun email! It’s normal, right? 

But depending on the outcome of an upcoming Supreme Court case, these actions could technically be considered illegal. 

  • The case started with a Georgia police officer: In 2015, he ran a license plate check for an acquaintance on his work database, charging her for the favor. The Feds were monitoring him, and he was convicted for federal computer fraud. 

  • He was charged under the same law that ensnares most hackers: But the officer’s situation was different. He was not illegally hacking into the license plate database. He had legal access for his job but was using it for a job-adjacent purpose. 

The potential ramifications of the conviction frighten legal scholars and media  

It’s routine for law enforcement officials to use their work databases to assist journalists and other members of the public -- albeit usually not for a price.  

  • And Stanford Law professor Jeffrey Fisher told the WSJ the consequences are far greater: He said a sweeping view of the Georgia police officer’s conviction would make nearly any non-work related action on a work computer illegal. “It is no overstatement to say that this construction would brand most Americans criminals on a daily basis.”

The Verdict

The Supreme Court took up the officer’s appeal on Monday and is expected to make a decision by June. Based on preliminary reactions, the court appears split, although not on traditional partisan lines. Sonia Sotomayor called the law “dangerously vague,” and Neil Gorsuch worried the Feds were “perhaps making a criminal of us all.”