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Laws designed to protect online security should not undermine it

Mozilla, Atlassian, and Shopify yesterday filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Van Buren v. U.S. asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider implications of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for online security and privacy.

Mozilla’s involvement in this case comes from our interest in making sure that the law doesn’t stand in the way of effective online security. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was passed as a tool to combat online hacking through civil and criminal liability. However, over the years various federal circuit courts have interpreted the law so broadly as to threaten important practices for managing computer security used by Mozilla and many others. Contrary to the purpose of the statute, the lower court’s decision in this case would take a law meant to increase security and interpret it in a way that undermines that goal.

System vulnerabilities are common among even the most security conscious platforms. Finding and addressing as many of these vulnerabilities as possible relies on reporting from independent security researchers who probe and test our network. In fact, Mozilla was one of the first to offer a bug bounty program with financial rewards specifically for the purpose of encouraging external researchers to report vulnerabilities to us so we can fix them before they become widely known. By sweeping in pro-security research activities, overbroad readings of the CFAA discourage independent investigation and reporting of security flaws. The possibility of criminal liability as well as civil intensifies that chilling effect.

We encourage the Supreme Court to protect strong cybersecurity by striking the lower court’s overbroad statutory interpretation.