On June 14, 2021, in a closely-watched dispute involving the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the Supreme Court granted LinkedIn Corp.’s (“LinkedIn”) petition for certiorari filed in the hiQ web scraping case. It subsequently vacated the Ninth Circuit 2019 opinion and remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s decision from earlier this month in Van Buren v. United States, 593 U. S. ___ (June 3, 2021). (LinkedIn Corp. v. hiQ Labs, Inc., No. 19-1116, 593 U.S. ___ (GVR Order June 14, 2021)).
In Van Buren, the Supreme Court reversed an Eleventh Circuit decision and adopted a narrow interpretation of “exceeds unauthorized access” under the CFAA, ruling that an individual “exceeds authorized access” when he or she accesses a computer with authorization but then obtains information located in particular areas of the computer – such as files, folders, or databases – that are off limits to him or her.
The LinkedIn-hiQ dispute involves a different part of the CFAA’s “unauthorized access” section than the Van Buren case. The question in the hiQ dispute concerns the scope of CFAA liability to unwanted web scraping of publicly available social media profile data and whether once data analytics firm hiQ received a cease-and-desist letter from LinkedIn demanding it stop scraping public profiles, any further scraping of such data was “without authorization” within the meaning of the CFAA. In 2017 the lower court issued a preliminary injunction, expressing “serious doubt” as to whether LinkedIn’s revocation of permission to access the public portions of its site rendered hiQ’s access “without authorization” within the meaning of the CFAA. On appeal, in 2019 the Ninth Circuit affirmed, notably ruling that: “It is likely that when a computer network generally permits public access to its data, a user’s accessing that publicly available data will not constitute access without authorization under the CFAA.” In 2020 LinkedIn filed a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. And now, in the wake of Van Buren, the Supreme Court has vacated the appeals court ruling and sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration.
So what’s next? Some thoughts: