Update: On March 12, 2020, an Orange County Superior Court judge reissued an order that prevents the Fullerton, California, blogger from publishing confidential documents he accessed through an unprotected folder on the city of Fullerton’s file-sharing account.
Attorneys for the Reporters Committee filed a friend of the court brief in City of Fullerton v. Friends for Fullerton’s Future, a case in California state court. City officials in Fullerton, California, filed a lawsuit against a local blog called Friends for Fullerton’s Future and two of its contributors, alleging violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and California’s Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act, among other claims.
The city alleges that the bloggers violated federal and state anti-hacking laws when they accessed unreleased and sensitive documents hosted and shared through an account on the file-sharing website Dropbox. Notably, however, it does not appear that the Dropbox page was password protected, and, while the city officials assert that they limited access by providing links to only specific folders, they also shared the top-level address for the site with public records requesters, including one of the defendants.
An Orange County Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the blog from posting or reporting on the city’s documents. Attorneys for the blog filed a writ asking a California court of appeals to intervene in the case by vacating the temporary restraining order. Attorneys for the Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants, arguing that the bloggers’ conduct does not constitute “hacking” under either federal or state computer crime laws. The brief also noted that the use of tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs), Tor browsers, and encryption is a common industry practice and is not nefarious, contrary to suggestions by the city. The appellate court reversed the lower court’s temporary restraining order and accepted our amicus. We expect more updates on the case soon.