Monday, May 21, 2012

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Digital office technology provides all kinds of means for increased productivity and better work results. But it also provides opportunities for all kinds of mischief, as this case shows.

The plaintiffs here are former employees of a solo practice law firm, owned and operated by one Jeremiah Johnson. When you own your own firm, you get to set the dress rules, and Mr. Johnson apparently required all of his female staff to wear skirts and heels in the office. Especially for a former mountain man, Mr. Johnson was technically quite proficient with iPhone and iPad apps that surreptitiously take photographs using the devices' embedded cameras. At some point, his female staff apparently became suspicious about the placement of their boss's iPhone and iPad  (it's unusual, even in small firms, to find the boss's cell phone under your desk), and managed to look on his computer to see if their suspicions were correct.

Well of course they were, otherwise I wouldn't be writing about this. Mr. Johnson's devices allegedly recorded a series of "up skirt" shots that he then stored on his office computer. The women deleted the offending pictures of themselves, quit, and then filed suit against Mr. Johnson alleging invasion of privacy and a great little tort called "outrage".

That conduct alone would make the case worth reporting, but Mr. Johnson, apparently not satisfied with the press he was getting for mere perversity, upped the ante by filing a counterclaim against his former employees.  Exercising the kind of creative thought process that got him into trouble in the first place, he sued the former employees under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because they deleted the files on his computer. The women promptly moved to dismiss.

Now, one of the things you have to do in any type of CFAA claim is describe the data that was erased from your system. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Johnson did not do this.  The court booted his counterclaim not only for failure to identify what was removed, but because whatever was removed (and I'm talking files, folks) did not qualify as a "loss" under the statute.  I'm pretty sure the court could connect the dots here.

Check the links for entertainment value. I would hope that the lessons of this case are obvious--you can connect the dots, too.

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