For example can the statement "Intentionally access without authorization/exceed authorization" be interpreted to mean something like a strict liability for accidental mistakes?

Like can a plantiff/prosecutor say something like "ya i know you made an accidental mistake in good faith but because this law is stated in just this way , I can also interpret this law as only needing intent to actually want to just access this particular thing even though you didn't know you don't have access or you believed you have proper access from authority. So i'm holding you strictly liable for an accidental mistake that everyday people can make." Can people interpret this law whichever way they like?? If no or yes then why? I'm not a law student /lawyer so trying to understand this law as a typical person.

  • What is unclear about the word "intentionally" here, that might remotely provide for accidental access to be construed as a violation? – Nij Dec 11 '19 at 11:14
  • @Nij like maybe an user intended to login just he believed that he had access when he didn't. So maybe i was reading it like intentionally accessing(fulfilled by wanting to login?), without authorization as 2 different parts/elements; definitely a stretch but I was just wondering if anybody could abuse it this way. An example that would be missing the intent to login would be malware that redirected you to login even if you didn't want to, so I was trying to differentiate these cases. – clarity_not_ambiguity Dec 11 '19 at 16:10

The courts have to have established the scope of the word "intentionally" in "intentionally access without authorization". The narrow reading is "intentionally access" meaning that the state does not have to establish intent with respect to authorization. The first step therefore is to determine exactly what law is applicable. 18 USC 2701 refers to one who

intentionally accesses without authorization a facility

intentionally exceeds an authorization to access that facility

18 USC 1030 says:

(a)(1) knowingly accessed a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access...

(2) Intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access...

(3) intentionally, without authorization to access

See US v. Yermian for analogous discussion of "knowingly and willfully" in the false statement law 18 USC 1001

whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully...

(where the issue is whether a person must know that the false statement is in a matter within federal jurisdiction).

The prosecutor is not allowed to argue what the law says, nor is the defense allowed to make such an argument. The practical tool for translating statutory language to human-decidable question is the jury instruction. There is no single jury instruction for all federal computer access laws. The Dept. of Justice has some draft jury instructions here starting p. 157, with no explanation of their authority. In the particular circuit, there may be an instruction which eliminates ambiguity, if it exists in the statutory language. If so, the judge will read that instruction. However, the judge is not allowed to make stuff up if the pattern instructions are not clear enough (or don't exist on the particular point).

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The state has to prove “intent” beyond reasonable doubt

If the state can’t prove your intention to “access without authorization/exceed authorization” then you didn’t commit the crime.

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  • I get that this is what most likely needs to happen, is this standard somewhere written in law or somewhere else where everyone is expected to follow? So if somebody tries to sue and justifies with the hypothetical reasoning above, what would the authority/larger authority say to him? – clarity_not_ambiguity Dec 11 '19 at 9:41

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