John Roberts on Computer Crime Legislation (1984)

While continuing to procrastinate, I decided that today would represent a terrific day to clean up my office and recycle some old paperwork. While looking through these stacks, I came across this, a memorandum written by Chief Justice John Roberts back when he was a young White House attorney. Like other Roberts memos that I’ve posted before (here, here,¬†and here), I obtained this document on a visit to the Reagan Library last year. For whatever reason, when posting the other documents, I forgot to include this one.

This April 1984 memo addresses a Department of Justice proposal to add new computer crimes to the federal code. I don’t know the precise terms of the proposal, but to my untrained eye, its (loosely described) provisions resemble certain of those found in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 1980s statute that recently has prompted much controversy.

The memorandum is short and to the point. It contains one nice rhetorical flourish, where Roberts observes that the proposal’s forfeiture provision “is designed to deter the junior high school computer whizzes who break into the Los Alamos computers and do such things as change the targets on all our nuclear missles [sic] to various points in New Jersey.”

If the DOJ’s proposal in fact mirrored the controversial terms of today’s CFAA, I suppose one could infer from Roberts’ lack of objections to the proposal a similar absence of unease with the CFAA’s broad scope. But I am not a CFAA expert, or even particularly familiar with its specific terms; thus I don’t know if the DOJ proposal and the statute are congruent in this respect. Plus, 1984 was a long time ago, and perhaps Roberts’s views have shifted over the years.

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