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United States v. Morris

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
928 F.2d 504 (1991)


Facts

Robert Morris (defendant) was a Cornell University (Cornell) graduate student. When Morris entered Cornell, he was given an account that granted him explicit authorization to use computers at Cornell. While at Cornell, Morris created a computer virus to demonstrate the inadequacies of the current computer-network security measures. Morris released the virus onto the Internet. The release was done from a computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to disguise the fact that the worm came from Morris at Cornell. The virus spread at a much faster rate than Morris had anticipated. The virus crashed numerous computers across the country. Morris attempted to send an anonymous message over the Internet detailing how to kill the virus, but the message did not get through because the network had become so clogged. The United States government (plaintiff) sued Morris, arguing that Morris had violated a federal law by accessing a federal-interest computer without authorization. The computers at Cornell to which Morris had access were considered federal-interest computers, as were many of the computers that were infected by Morris’s virus. Morris contended that his conduct only exceeded authorized access, and it was not altogether unauthorized. The lower court found in favor of the government. Morris appealed.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Newman, J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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