In today’s economy, almost all commerce is conducted with the use of computers and networks. To protect consumers and business from the improper use of computers (and electronically-stored information), the Virginia Computer Crimes Act (“VCCA”) imposes a number of criminal and civil penalties for wrongful acts that are committed through the use of a computer or computer network. This makes the VCCA an important statute for employers to be aware of, both to avoid incurring liability and to recognize and be able to recoup losses an employer might suffer as a result of wrongful employee conduct that involved a computer.
While the VCCA is primarily a criminal statute, it also allows victims of a computer crime to sue the perpetrators of such crimes for monetary damages. As a result, the VCCA is more often invoked in civil lawsuits for monetary damages than in criminal proceedings. Additionally, the VCCA often overlaps with other commercial statutes, such as the Virginia Business Conspiracy Act or the Virginia Uniform Trade Secrets Act, giving businesses a variety of ways to respond in the event of employee misconduct.
This means that the VCCA is applicable to many common problems that employers face. Employees that breach a non-competition agreement or misappropriate an employer’s trade secrets often use a computer to accomplish these wrongful acts, and therefore will also have violated the VCCA. For instance, if a departing employee were to wrongfully take a copy of an electronic customer list, in violation of a non-compete agreement or an employer’s computer use policy, the employee could be subject to criminal penalties under the VCCA, as well as face a civil action brought by the employer for both trade secret misappropriation and computer trespass. An employee that intentionally harms an employer’s computer networks, or uses a computer to steal from an employer, would similarly run afoul of the VCCA.
Practical Counsel: The VCCA is an important tool available to employers to protect their confidential information stored electronically. Recently, we have witnessed former employees face both criminal and civil liability. If you believe a current or former employee accessed your electronically stored confidential information, the VCCA may be one of many tools available to protect your business.
If you have any questions about this article, need help with employment decisions, or any other legal matter, please contact Merritt Green, Managing Partner and Chair of General Counsel, P.C.’s Labor and Employment Practice Group at firstname.lastname@example.org